What should a depressed teenager do

Confused asks: Okay so I’ve been depressed since I was about 7. I wanted to kill myself by the time I was 8. I started cutting myself when I was 10, but I haven’t cut since I was 11. I’m so stressed and tired of everything. There are some days in which I’ll wake up wanting to die, but there are other days where I wake up thinking life is beautiful. Then there are the days that I wake up not caring if I died at any given moment. However, I’m tired of feeling like this.I want help, but I don’t want to disappoint my parents. I never talk to them about anything personal, and they get mad at me for that. I think that if I tell them that I want to go to therapy, they’ll get even more mad at me. Plus, I don’t know why I’m depressed. I have everything I could ever ask for; I have a roof over my head, food on my table, a loving family, good grades, and other positive things. I just don’t understand why I’m like this. What should I do?

Hi Confused –

I’m very glad you’re not cutting anymore.  If you start to feel a huge craving for it again, please go to the home page here and put “cutting” into the search box, and you’ll see some suggestions for ways to deal with that feeling.

Of course I don’t know your family at all, but I’m inclined to think (and hope) that you might be a little wrong about your parents.  The way you describe your situation to me, with you knowing your life is good, but feeling depressed anyway, makes me think that if you described your situation just that way to them, they probably wouldn’t get mad.  Instead, they’d want to try to figure out what’s wrong.  And getting a professional to check you out is a great way of doing that.  You might have an actual chemical imbalance, where some sort of medication could help – and if that’s the case, it would be very helpful to your life to deal with that.

But more likely, WAY more likely, you’ve just gone through some tough times. I don’t know how old you are (except that you’re over 11), but it is very normal for teenagers to go through times when they feel very depressed.  It mostly comes from the fact that everything in your life is changing – outside of you and inside of you – in ways you can’t understand or control.  And so you’re just stuck like me in a crate – unable to move forward or backward, or even get comfortable, with no sign of anything changing anytime soon.

But you also tell me that you’ve had these feelings since you were eight.  And that is too much!

So I wish I had some other suggestions, but I really only have three for right now.  The first is to do just what you’re afraid to do – tell your parents just what you told me, and ask if they’d be willing to take you to someone to talk with about it.

The second would be to go yourself, if there’s a counselor at your school, or if you attend a place of worship where there’s someone trained in these things.

And the third?  If none of those can work?  Well, that’s where I step in with my favorite suggestion: would your parents be willing to get you a DOG?!  We are the best antidepressants out there.  I can’t guarantee a dog will take away all these bad feelings, but it’s awfully hard to want to hurt yourself when the best friend you ever had is begging you to play catch, or curling up on your lap.

Please let me know what you do.  And when you do, please also let me know how old you are now.  It’ll help.

Thanks for reaching out.  This WILL get better, my friend!


(Confused Wrote Back)

Thank you for what you said; it brightened my day. I live in an apartment, so I can’t have a dog. Even if I could, I think my mom is allergic to dogs so we wouldn’t be able to have one. But on the thought of telling my parents, I’m really scared to tell them because I feel like it’ll mess everything up. My parents seem pretty happy, and I feel like if I tell them that then things will change and I’ll upset them or make them sad– and I don’t want to do that. I’m also scared that they’re not going to take me seriously and say that I’m over-exaggerating the situation, especially if I mention the part about being depressed since I was 7. Since the time I wrote this, I think I’ve realized why I’m depressed. When I was 5, my grandma had cancer and my dad told me to pray for her. I was always too lazy and never did. Then, when I was 6, she died and I felt like it was all my fault. Of course now I know that it’s not and that I can’t control things like that. However, at that age, I thought that I could’ve done something to change her fate, especially since I was in Catholic school and believed that if you asked God for anything he would help you. By the time I was 8, I thought that I should die because I didn’t help my grandma. It came to the point where I was praying that God would go back and trade me for her. I’ve lived with that guilt for all those years and all it’s been doing is building up and now I understand that I can’t let it build up anymore. I know I’m going to say something eventually, I’m just not sure when I’ll have enough courage to do it.

(And then I, Shirelle, wrote back:)
Oh Confused!  I’m so sorry!

You are absolutely right.  There’s a period with all human children when they believe they’re responsible for everything around them.  What I usually hear about is kids whose parents divorce, who believe they caused it (they never ever do).  But this one is even tougher!  It’s bad enough to believe you caused your parents to split up, but to think you killed your grandmother?!  I’d think about hurting myself too!

The good news is that you now realize you were wrong.  Prayer is a beautiful and powerful thing, but one person’s prayers can’t change everything, and you were certainly not in any way responsible for what happened to her.

The bad news, though, is that I think you’re still a little bit trapped in that way of thinking.  My friend, of course I don’t know your parents.  But from everything you tell me, they sound like they’re fully intelligent and mature people.  And if they are, then they knew the day you were born that you’d be sad sometimes (and if not, the crying you did as a baby taught them so!).  What parents want most is to be able to help their kids.   So telling them you’re depressed probably won’t upset them, except that they’ll feel bad for you.  And especially if you tell them about the guilt you’ve been carrying around all these years, they should understand that you’ve had a burden you didn’t deserve, and that you’ll be a much happier person once you’ve dealt with it more fully.

Most of us animals have empathy.  When I see a sad person, I’m very likely to go lay my head in their lap.  When I’m sad or scared, my human loves to pet me and make me feel better.  Even cats (and I hate admitting this) can be very loving to their humans or each other when they sense that sort of feeling.  And no one cares more about someone than a parent cares for their child.

So I understand your saying you’re waiting for the courage to speak up.  And I won’t push you.  But please know, when you think the courage might be there, that I’m standing behind you, up on my back legs, tail wagging, cheering you forward.

Life is about to get a LOT better!


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