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There is Hope: A Comprehensive Guide for Dealing with Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Kavya Weaver ‘20, News Editor

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To preface this article, we want to provide the most important information first: where to get help. If you are having suicidal thoughts or experiencing other forms of severe emotional distress, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to anyone in crisis and is available at all hours. Do not hesitate to call this number if you think you need help.

 

What is depression?

Depression is a serious and common mental health disorder that is characterized by prolonged sadness, lack of energy and interest in activities that those affected once enjoyed, and a decreased ability to function in everyday life. This mental illness has many damaging symptoms that range from mild to severe. Depression IS treatable.

 

What are some symptoms of depression?

Some of the prominent symptoms of depression (according to the American Psychiatric Association) include:

  • Persistent and intense feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms have to persist for at least two weeks before a person can receive a formal diagnosis of depression. Because many of the symptoms of depression are not observably obvious, many depressed people silently struggle with their condition without being noticed. In fact, about 65% of people experiencing severe symptoms of depression are not treated. Why would so many people not seek treatment for depression? There are multiple factors that contribute to this phenomenon. One reason is how gradual the onset of depression is. Because the process of becoming severely depressed is so slow, many of the people who struggle with the condition don’t realize how much their emotional health has disintegrated. Even if people are aware that something is wrong, they often prevent themselves from reaching out for help because of the “I can handle this myself” mentality. Because there is so much stigma surrounding depression, many people are hesitant to seek help and feel as though their symptoms are something they should be able to deal with on their own.

 

Why is depression particularly relevant among teens today?

Transparency and education concerning depression is extremely important in the 21st century, especially at high schools. Over the past decade, teen mental health has deteriorated at an alarming rate. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of American teenagers who reported experiencing symptoms of depression increased by 33%, and the number of teens who committed suicide between those years rose 31%. Psychologists believe the number of teens who are depressed is actually much larger because only about 20% of teens actually seek help and expose their experiences with depression. This rise in mental health issues has been found in teenagers from all backgrounds, no matter what ethnicity or socioeconomic background they come from. Even more frightening are the statistics that show that these numbers have continued to increase at a distressing rate since 2012. The epidemic of depressed adolescents, which includes the high school students of today, has spiked within the past generation. Psychologists have debated over what is causing the rise of depression in teens, and there are many theories that seek to understand this phenomenon. One possible reason is that the generations of teens living in America today (commonly known as Gen Z)  grew up in a time where terrorism and school shootings have become normalized. Another theory that has strong evidence to support it is the ascendance of social media and the smartphone. Many studies have linked time online to depression, and no generation is more connected to technology than Gen Z. Because teens are spending more time interacting with others online than in person, many adolescents struggle to develop authentic relationships and deal with loneliness as a result. Additionally, social media has cultivated an environment of constant comparison to others. Social media platforms enable users to distort reality and only present the “perfect” parts of themselves. Consequentially, when teens spend hours a day looking at their peers’ seemingly flawless lives, they experience strong feelings of inadequacy. The phenomenon of low self-esteem among teens, which has been present with every generation, has only been perpetuated and reinforced by the rise of social media among Gen Z.

 

Why is depression relevant to the student body at Oakland Catholic?

Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to depression in the modern world, making this issue especially relevant to Oakland Catholic. A study published in May of 2017 by the Translational Psychiatry Journal found that over one third of teen girls have experienced with depression, a statistic that is almost three times the rate of depression among boys. What causes so many teen girls to be depressed? In today’s society, girls are facing an alarming amount of pressure that boys aren’t dealing with. Compounded with the obstacles and challenges posed in living in a male-dominated society, girls also have to face the task of dealing with immense stress of excelling academically to prove themselves among male peers as well as trying to meet unattainable beauty standards. With the rise of the Internet and social media, which allows users to edit and filter their photos, teen girls are constantly bombarded with images of “perfection” that are unrealistic and impose ridiculous demands upon girls. Most girls feel like they will never be smart enough, never be successful enough, and never be pretty enough. In a world of constant competition and comparison, it is logical that so many teen girls are struggling to live fulfilling and happy lives. Another contributing factor to the rise of mental health issues is the toxic stress culture that has become commonplace in most high schools, especially among competitive schools like Oakland Catholic. In a toxic stress culture, stress is a measure of success, and taking time to relax or sleep eight hours a night is a sign of weakness. In her book Enough As She Is, Rachel Simmons, an author who has studied young women for two decades, says “For many girls today, the drive to achieve is fueled by brutal self-criticism and an acute fear of failure…young women [are] so focused on achieving that they avoid healthy risks, overthink setbacks, and suffer from imposter syndrome – believing they are frauds.” At a competitive all-girls school like Oakland Catholic, many students are familiar with the stressful demands of everyday life, including doing hours of homework, managing your social media presence, keeping up with sports and extracurriculars, trying to deal with all of the frightening events in the news, and squeezing in a few hours of sleep between all of these obligations. Because teen girls are the most vulnerable demographic to depression and Oakland Catholic can be a stressful environment, it’s no surprise that so many OC girls struggle to maintain their mental health in the midst of all of their other commitments. The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay to be struggling – in fact, it’s normal. Being a teen girl can be really hard, and it’s totally understandable if you feel like you can’t handle the pressure. There is nothing “weak” about reaching out for help if you feel like you might be dealing with depression. You don’t have to project a facade of “being fine” when you’re really not. Although it’s hard to prioritize your well-being above the other demands in your life, remember that grades, SAT scores, how many followers you have on social media, and the number of AP classes you’re taking or how many goals you score at a sports game are all fleeting. They do not define your value, no matter what society or peers tells you.

 

What are some misconceptions surrounding depression?

There are many misconceptions surrounding depression. Some notable ones include:

  • You can control depression.
    • This misconception is very dangerous because it belittles the seriousness of depression. Additionally, it makes people who are depressed feel as though they are weak because they can’t “control” their emotions. Depression cannot be controlled. It is NOT your fault if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. Another danger of this misconception is that it adds to the stigma surrounding depression and makes those affected feel guilty about and responsible for their mental health.
  • Depression is all in your head.
    • Often, people who don’t understand depression will tell those who suffer from the illness that “it’s all in your head.” This misconception is extremely misinformed because it denies the seriousness of the illness. Depression is a legitimate medical condition that involves both environmental and chemical factors.
  • The best way to comfort someone who is depressed is to cheer them up.
    • While the people who harbor this misconception are well-meaning, they don’t understand how complicated the illness actually is. You can’t make someone “snap out of it” by telling them to be happy. It doesn’t work that way. The best way you can help a depressed friend is by listening to them and making sure they have access to resources like a counselor and a doctor who can prescribe them with treatment.

 

Is depression treatable?

Depression is a very treatable illness, but everyone’s recovery will be different. Although recovering from depression is a hard process, the National Mental Health Association says that more than 80% of people who get treatment say that it has helped. There are many effective methods of treatment that have been developed to combat depression in children, adolescents, and adults. For most of history, depression was a very misunderstood condition, especially in teens and children. In fact, medical professionals believed that depression only affected adults until the 1970’s. However, today, a wide variety of treatments and medications are available to depressed children and teens. Studies indicate that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best way to treat depression, although each individual’s needs may vary. Psychotherapy, or “talk” therapy, is a method of counseling that helps patients improve their well-being. Psychotherapy is typically conducted over the course of several sessions. This series of sessions can be scheduled over the course of a few weeks up to several years. Both the patient and therapist are actively involved in finding the root of the problem and implementing the healing process. Psychotherapy is commonly paired with an antidepressant medication. Antidepressants work by regulating brain chemicals like serotonin to help depressed people stabilize their mood. This medication can help people come out of depression and can even help prevent future depressions. Some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants prescribed to teens include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Lexapro. If you think that you may need to be on an antidepressant, talk to your doctor about your symptoms to see which medication will work best for you.

 

Where can I find help if I’m depressed?

If you think you’re depressed, it’s important to talk to a loved one or one of the guidance counselors at school, who are more than willing to help you find further help. There are many other resources that you can reach out to if you are in crisis and/or are struggling to cope with a traumatic event that occurred in your life. Listed below is a comprehensive list of resources in Allegheny County. This list was compiled by Megan Showers, a social worker and therapist who works at East Liberty Family Health Care Center in Pittsburgh. Do not hesitate to contact any of the resources below if you think you need help.

 

Outpatient Behavioral Health Resources :

 

  1. Allegheny Children’s Initiative Inc

(Southside)

412-431-8006

 

  1. Mercy Behavioral Health

(Southside, Northside, Uptown, Downtown)

(877) 637-2924

 

  1. Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute

(Multiple Locations)

412-661-1239

 

  1. Community Empowerment Association

(Homewood)

412-371-3689

 

  1. Community Psychiatric Centers

(East Liberty)

412-241-5437

 

  1. Familylinks

(Multiple Locations)

412-924-0172

 

  1. Family Resources

(Oakland)

412-363-1702 x2

 

  1. Glade Run Lutheran Services

(Friendship)

412-661-1827

 

  1. Jewish Family and Children Services

(Squirrel Hill)

*Also offers services in Spanish

412-521-3800

 

  1.  Chartiers Center

(Bridgeville)

412-221-3302 x123

 

  1. Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic

(Multiple Locations)

412-624-2100

 

  1. Turtle Creek MH/MR

(Homestead)

412-461-1004

 

  1. Pressley Ridge

(Multiple Locations)

412-321-6995

 

  1. Mon Yough Community Services

(McKeesport)

412-675-8480

 

  1. Adaptive Behavioral Services

(Swissvale)

412-661-7790

 

  1. Milestones

(Wilkinsburg)

412-731-9707

 

  1. Holy Family Institute

(Emsworth and Swissvale)

412-766-4030

 

Behavioral Health Resources for Specific Populations:

 

Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (sexual violence)

Offers therapy, legal advocacy, and educational programs for children and teens who have been victims of sexual violence

(Southside)

412-431-5665

Tree of Hope (traumatic loss)

A faith based organization which meets the needs of children/adolescents who have suffered a traumatic loss.

(Downtown)

412-434-0404

Services for Teens at Risk of Suicide (STAR)

Offered by WPIC hospital this program specializes in preventing and treating suicidal behaviors, depression, and interpersonal violence in teens.

(Multiple Locations)

412-246-5619

Center for Overcoming Problem Eating (COPE) (Eating Disorders)

Offered through WPIC this program specializes in eating disorders.  They offer an inpatient program as well as various outpatient programs.

(Multiple Locations)

412-647-9329

OCD Clinic at WPIC

(Oakland)

412-235-5354

Center for Victims (Violent Crime Victims)

(Southside and McKeesport)

412-482-3240

Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents

AGH services to those who have experienced trauma such as: witnessing abuse, witnessing violence, death of a family member, and natural disasters

(Northside)

412-330-4328

Persad (LGBT, sexual identity, and gender identity)

(E. Liberty)

1-888-873-7723

Gateway Genesis (drug/alcohol)

A division of gateway rehab dedicated to teens with drug and alcohol use and dependency.  Offers detox, inpatient, and outpatient programs throughout the city.

(Multiple Locations)

1-800-472-1177

 

Emergency/Crisis Services:

 

RESOLVE

24 hour call line with trained counselors

Mobile crisis unit

1-888-796-8226

PAAR (Pittsburgh Action Against Rape)

24 hour call line

1-866-363-7273

LGBT Lifeline

24 hour crisis line for those with gender identity or sexuality concerns

1-877-565-8860

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 741741

 

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There is Hope: A Comprehensive Guide for Dealing with Depression and Suicidal Thoughts