“Rising Above the Blues,” New Era, Apr. 2002, 30
When people told Melissa* to snap out of it, it only made her feel worse. She would try but would still wake up the next day feeling awful. “I didn’t know what to do. I would sleep the day away because I felt totally worthless.”
“I didn’t even realize I was depressed,” she says. “I didn’t even think to turn to my Heavenly Father for help.”
She also didn’t want to talk to her mom about what she was feeling. “I thought my mom would not like me for opening up and letting her know I was hurting. But once I talked to her she was really supportive, and I needed that.”
When Melissa was 14, her mom took her to a doctor. “At first I thought, No way! I don’t need a counselor. I’m fine! But I guess I wasn’t fine. When you’re depressed you don’t really realize there’s something wrong with you. And when you finally do recognize it, you’re so immune to it that it’s hard to deal with.”
Melissa has been in counseling for more than a year, and she looks forward to her once-a-week therapy sessions now. She’s glad she decided to get help. “I didn’t think I would ever need help. I didn’t think I would ever go through the things I went through. After a while I finally realized I needed to get down on my knees and ask for help. And that help came. I turned to my scriptures more often, and there would always be something there I needed to hear.”
Melissa has suffered a lot because of depression, but she feels her reactions to her trials have made her into a better person. “When I say a prayer I thank Heavenly Father for my challenges because they make me stronger and they strengthen my testimony and help me grow closer to Him.”
Ups and downs are completely normal if you’re a teenager—but you already know that. Your mood can change daily or even hourly. So how can you know if you or someone you know is suffering from depression, and not just adolescent highs and lows? How can you tell if what you’re feeling is the effect of passing clouds or of long-term darkness?
Some of the symptoms of depression are persistent sadness, lack of energy, and suicidal thoughts. You might not enjoy many of the things you used to, and daily tasks might seem overwhelming (see sidebar, page 31). Although the same factors cause depression in both sexes, boys and girls tend to react differently to the same problems. Boys often act out in many cases, through violence, substance abuse, or getting into other kinds of trouble. Girls tend to become sad and withdraw socially, emotionally, or both. Each person will have a different combination of symptoms.
There is no one cause for depression. Chemical imbalances, heredity, certain styles of thinking, and environment could all be factors leading to this common health problem. Fortunately, it is also generally very treatable.
More than five percent of teens in the United States experience some form of depression each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It can affect you emotionally as well as physically and spiritually. Many of the feelings of peace and calm usually associated with the Holy Spirit are hard to feel if you are depressed.
Although depression is limiting in many ways, you always have the choice to ask for help. “You can’t do it on your own, you need help,” Melissa says. “The longer you hold [your problem] in, the worse it will be.”
“It does not mean you’re crazy. It does not mean you’re bad,” says Dorann Mitchell, a clinical social worker who also works with LDS Family Services. “Sometimes you just can’t get out of it. If you can’t talk yourself out of something, that’s okay. But that means you should seek out the things that can help you. … Sometimes you can’t pray it away.” Sister Mitchell suggests using all the help available to you.
“We all need help from other people at different times, and that certainly fits with the gospel,” Sister Mitchell says.
The most important step to recovery, and probably the hardest, is to actually seek help. It might not seem that there’s a way out—or that things will ever change—but those hopeless feelings are an illusion created by the depression. Those feelings can be overcome if you take that first step of seeking help.
Treatments for depression often involve a combination of therapy and antidepressant medications. It is important not to self-medicate. Turning to herbal or natural supplements before going to a doctor is dangerous to your health. And you already know substance abuse is definitely not the answer to any problem.
“There were times when I felt like my prayers were not being answered. I was frustrated,” says Anna, 17, who’s in treatment for depression.
Anna was doing everything she was supposed to. Her life was in line with the gospel. So why didn’t Anna think she was getting an answer?
Sometimes depression can make it harder to feel the comfort of the Holy Ghost, even when you haven’t done anything wrong. Anna says she realizes now that God does love her and that He was with her all along; but she just couldn’t feel Him there. “I know now that He’s there to help and that I can pray to Him or just talk to Him.”
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve has said, “If you seek His help, be sure your life is clean, your motives are worthy, and you’re willing to do what He asks—for He will answer your prayers. … He loves you perfectly and wants to help you” (Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32).
Attitude can make all the difference, too, says Becky, who’s also being treated for depression. “Your attitude definitely changes the way you feel,” even though there’s only so much you can do on your own when you have depression.
We cannot avoid adversity, says Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve. “The only question is how we will react to it. Will our adversities be stumbling blocks or stepping-stones? … Like the mortal life of which they are a part, adversities are temporary. What is permanent is what we become by the way we react to them. Our adversities can be the means of obtaining blessings unobtainable without them” (Ensign, July 1998, 7, 9).
Things are still not easy for Melissa, Becky, and Anna. But since they have turned to the Lord and requested help from other sources as well, they are doing much better, and they now feel their lives are worth living. Becky says, “Even if you feel like no one else has ever gone through this, Jesus Christ has. He has felt every single thing.”
The Savior was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: … Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: … and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:3–5). No matter how you get help, ultimate healing will always come from the Savior. He will ease your burdens. His gospel is a gospel of peace and hope. Never doubt that He wants you to be happy.
Not everyone will experience the same depressive symptoms, but one or a combination of the following symptoms should be a warning. Prolonged (longer than two weeks) and severe symptoms are a sign that you need to ask for help. Some of the most common symptoms of depression are:
A persistent sad, anxious, or empty feeling
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Decreased energy or increased fatigue
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting up
Appetite change and/or weight loss or gain
Restlessness and irritability
Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, stomachaches, or other chronic pain
Thoughts of death or suicide
(National Institute of Mental Health)
“There is help. There is happiness. There really is light at the end of the tunnel. It is the Light of the World, the Bright and Morning Star, the light that is endless, that can never be darkened (see John 8:12). It is the very Son of God Himself. …
“To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve. Christ comes to you in His ‘more excellent ministry’ (Heb. 8:6) with a future of better promises. He is your ‘high priest of good things to come’” (Heb. 9:11) (Ensign, Nov. 1999, 36).
—Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve
Depression is real. There are many misconceptions about depression. Here are a few of the falsehoods you might have heard, along with the truth about this serious mental condition:
False: All teenagers are moody. They don’t have real depression.
True: People of any age can suffer from depression. While it is true that the teen years bring many ups and downs, those who suffer from prolonged depression have a very real health problem.
False: Teens who say they’re depressed just need to snap out of it.
True: That’s like telling someone to perform surgery on himself. Depression is not a phase. It is a serious illness. Those who suffer from depression should see a doctor to find out how to begin treatment.
False: Telling someone that your friend is depressed is betraying a trust.
True: A real friend would do his best to make sure his friend gets help. Depression takes away motivation, and your friend might not recognize that he or she needs help or care about getting help. It’s up to you to be a good friend.
If you have a friend who is depressed, offer your support, patience, and encouragement. Remember, people with depression can’t just snap out of a low mood.
And never ignore talk of suicide or any other signals your friend might be giving you. Tell a trusted adult or doctor about your friend’s threats immediately. Not all suicidal teens will behave in the same way, but here are some signs that your friend needs help, and fast:
They want to be alone all the time.
They are moody and irritable.
Their personality has changed abruptly.
They are using drugs or alcohol.
They are sleeping too much or not enough.
They are giving their possessions away.
They have talked about suicide or wanting to die.
Pray whenever you need help and comfort.
Read the scriptures and other uplifting books.
Listen to uplifting music.
Ask for a priesthood blessing.
Serve others. You have a lot to offer.
Spend time with your family and friends. Let them help you.
Be patient. You’ll improve gradually once you seek treatment.
Talk to a friend.
Try to break negative thought patterns.
Prioritize what you need to do, and set realistic goals on a schedule you can handle.
Start a worthwhile hobby to get your mind off things.
Keep a journal.
Get help from:
Your bishop or youth leader
LDS Family Services
A school counselor
Your family doctor
Local crisis lines (Check your phone book for listings under “mental health,” “health,” “social services,” or “crisis intervention services”).