‘I’ve Hidden This My Whole Life’ – Getting Help After Childhood Depression
By Anna Challet
Editor’s Note: May 7 marks the 10th annual National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, some 9 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2012, and suicide was the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in 2011.
NAM spoke with a 24-year-old journalism student at a community college in Los Angeles who said she wishes that her depression had been addressed when she was younger. She prefers not to use her real name because she worries that if future potential employers know that she’s been diagnosed with depression, it could affect her ability to get a job.
I don’t know if I was born with depression. I don’t know if that’s a real thing that can happen. But problems like this seem to run in my family. My grandmother has anxiety issues, and my dad has always seemed depressed, even though he never talks about it. Nobody in my family wants to talk about that kind of thing.
I’ve just never felt right. I feel like I go through highs and lows more than normal people. Well, no, I’m normal – I shouldn’t criticize myself. But I’ve always known that something was wrong, and I couldn’t talk to my family about it. I’m close with my family but I still felt like they would be judgmental, and I also wouldn’t want to burden them with my problems.
When I turned 18 and could start going to the doctor without telling my parents, the first thing I did was make an appointment to talk about how I was feeling – that I was anxious and unhappy and I didn’t understand why. That throughout my whole life, I’ve gone through long periods of time when I didn’t want to do anything and didn’t want to be around people. At that point I wasn’t familiar with what “depression” is, and I didn’t feel like I could ask anybody.
My doctor prescribed antidepressants. I decided to tell my dad, and I found out something I’d never known about myself – my dad told me that when I was really young, around 5 years old, my pediatrician had thought I was depressed and wanted to try giving me medication. My parents refused; they didn’t want to drug me when I was so young.
I was kind of upset when I heard this. It’s not that I had a terrible childhood, but maybe I could have had a different one. My parents did send me to talk with a therapist when I was in high school because they thought I was unhappy, but talking through things actually made me feel worse. I never felt comfortable with the therapist. And medication was never discussed.
I had to try different medications before finding the right one. The combination of drugs I’m taking right now is definitely working – in addition to the antidepressants, I’m now also taking a medication for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
I wish my depression and my ADD had been diagnosed earlier. If I’d been on medication, maybe I wouldn’t have spent so many years feeling unhappy, and maybe I would have done better in school.
For the first time in my life I’m enjoying school. I’m getting things done and I’m able to concentrate. I’ve tried out a few different fields of study – for a while I thought I might want to be a sign language interpreter, and then I wanted to try out public relations. But I finally took the leap to try journalism. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but until now I didn’t have enough confidence in my writing. I think the medication has helped me believe in myself.
The last few months have been rocky for me because I had to switch to a new insurance plan and I lost access to the doctors I’d been seeing for the past few years. I felt like my new doctor was very judgmental of me when I was explaining which medications I’ve been taking and why I need to take them.
Another person who’s been judgmental is my grandmother. I’m very close with her because my mom moved away after my parents got divorced. When I told my grandmother that I was taking antidepressants, she said something like, “You don’t need that stuff.” But I do need it. It’s the only thing that has helped me.
Her saying those things made me doubt myself – I’m thinking, “Should I not be on medication? Am I doing something wrong? Is there something else that’s wrong with me?” I know she only wants what’s best for me. But I’ve hidden this my whole life, and now I’m doing something about it and my life is changing for the better.
This story was produced as part of a partnership between New America Media and the journalism department at Pierce College in Los Angeles, made possible by a grant from the California Health Care Foundation.