We wanted to look more closely at teenage depression and have some wonderful Tribers sharing their own experiences with us this week. We have already heard from Sally Stubbs who works with teenagers who have mental health issues as a psychotherapist and Natalie who first met the black dog at 17.
Today’s contributor is Mia Vee (25) who started to self-harm at the very young age of 12. Below is Mia Vee’s very personal account of her battle with depression, her parents’ reaction, the stigma of teenage depression and why there is a need for greater understanding amongst parents and educators.
“It's a good thing we caught it early.”
It's a phrase many of us have heard regarding our own health or that of loved ones. From minor infections to the earth shattering news of cancer, an early diagnosis is associated with a higher likelihood of recovery and survival.
But what about conditions for which there isn't an obvious physical symptom? Or what if the symptoms that are present are too easily attributed to “just your age”?
I first self-harmed when I was 12. This was after about a year of feeling increasingly detached and troubled, as if I was living my life through the grey haze of a dream that never quite ended. Cutting gave a short-term release, helping me to feel “real” and “connected” in a way that I hadn't for moths.
Without children of my own, I can only imagine how my parents must have felt to discover that their little girl was hurting herself. Their reactions at the time were anger and disgust. I was told that “only sick people do that, if it happens again we'll have to put you in a home” and made to promise that it wouldn't happen again. It would be easy to get angry or resentful about this as an adult, but how could I expect my (wonderful, by the way) parents to realise that this was the onset of a serious mental illness when at the time nobody talked about it? Mental illness was something that happened to abuse victims or something that made people into violent murderers, according to the news.
Now I understand that these responses were most likely a result of confusion and fear and indicative of a lack of awareness or understanding of how mental health challenges can affect younger people. However, the reluctance to acknowledge and seek help for something that was categorically not just part of “growing up” led to a worsening of my depression. By the age of 15, I was suicidal, couldn't sleep at night, struggled to stay awake during the day and self-harming daily in the bathroom sat school and in my bedroom at home. But I was regularly being told to snap out of it, or chastised for being “moody” and “lazy”.
The stigma around mental health is all too real and can quickly lead to fear and denial in those closest to someone beginning to suffer, especially when that sufferer is a teenager. After all, you're just a kid, what could you possibly have to be depressed about, right?
Depression doesn't care how old you are, whether you're the smartest pupil in your year, from the richest family in town or the happy go lucky class clown. Like most mental illnesses, it can affect anybody regardless of their situation.
In the decade since I was 15; I've taken thousands of pills, been seen by dozens of doctors and psychiatric professionals and have spent countless hours reading up on and educating myself about my condition.
With the benefit of hindsight I see how the stigma and misunderstandings around depression profoundly disrupt the already turbulent adolescent years and affect and shape a person's life as they develop into adulthood. Greater understanding amongst parents and educators is essential to “catch it early”. Nobody should have to go through their confusing, exciting and all-too-fleeting teenage years shouldering the burden of a debilitating but invisible illness.