Why do teenagers get depressed?

Tulla123 asks: Dear shirelle, I think I’m starting to go through depression. I think this because of my mum; at the moment she constantly hates me. I feel like I’m worthless and I don’t want to live with her anymore. Usually I would just ignore it, but I’ve got to the stage when I sit in front of the mirror and ask myself “who am I?” I’m only 12 and I don’t talk to my dad so I can’t move in with him. I’m worried I’m going to get to the stage where I want to kill myself. How can I stop this from happening?

Hi Tulla123 –


It sounds to me like you have two things going on at the same time.  And both of them are very tough.


The first is just what you say – you’re feeling unloved by your mother, and you have no relationship with your dad.  This is HARD!  No question about it!  I believe you’ll get through it just fine, but this is really painful and difficult… and UNFAIR.


My guess is that your mum doesn’t really hate you.  She’s just angry.  Maybe she’s overworked, maybe she feels bad about herself, maybe she’s unhappy about your dad not being there.  Whatever it is, she’s treating you in a way that makes you feel like she hates you, and that’s an unbearable feeling!  (I know how awful it’s been when I’ve felt that Handsome didn’t like me, or even hated me.  But the truth is – that was never what was going on.  He was just upset about his life, or about a girlfriend hurting him… or sometimes he was just really mad that I’d chewed up or broken something!  But even then, he never hated me.  He loves me too much for that.  And the fact that your mum hasn’t kicked you out of the house, and is still there for you even while she’s this angry – tells me that deep down she most likely loves you more than you can possibly imagine).


Now the other thing you have going on is that you’re Twelve.  And that’s a tough age for all humans.  And humans who are especially smart or mature are beginning, at that age, to go through the wild mind-trip called Adolescence.  Other kids won’t reach the place you are, of asking who they themselves are, for another few years.  You’re just ahead of schedule!


Tulla123, Adolescence is a tough road to walk.  Your body is changing, your interests are changing, and your sense of yourself is completely confused.  Lots of the greatest and most popular works ever written are about just this, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet to all those great songs of confusion and alienation by people like Adele and Taylor Swift and – probably the most perfect of these – the early recordings of Bob Dylan (like “It’s Allright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” and “Like a Rolling Stone”).  And then there are the movies!  Oh you’re just in time to start loving these stories that would never have made sense to you before – like “Rebel Without a Cause,” “The 400 Blows,” “Ordinary People,” and one of my favorites, “My Life as a Dog,” though it’s not what the title sounds like!


You asked me how you can stop from getting so depressed you’d want to kill yourself.  Well I’ll tell you.  It’s to realize that you’re not alone in this at all.  What you’re going through is stuff that teens have experienced from the beginning of time.  It’s something you have to go through in order to become an adult.


And did you realize what I just said?  That means all the adults you see have gone through this in some way.  Yes, even your Mother!  (Though some adults seem to have forgotten what it was like – and she might be one).


This is all because your brain is growing.  You’re becoming more aware, smarter, deeper.  And while it’s very difficult to go through now, you’ll find that eventually all this leads to you becoming stronger.  And, yes, freer!  You’ll understand the world better, and be able to accomplish more.  You’ll have abilities you only dream of now.


So I’ll leave you with three things.  The first is a request that you stay in touch with me, and let me talk with you while you go through this.



The second is for you to promise me that, if you do get to feeling a lot worse, and consider doing anything harmful to yourself, that you reach out to someone – a therapist, a religious leader, a school counselor – who can be there for you and help you get through this.


And the third thing is a quote from that guy I mentioned above, who just seemed to understand all this so well.  Here’s my promise to you and everyone else experiencing what you’re experiencing:


“As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look

Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended

Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed

For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse

An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe

An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing”


All my best,




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