Don't dismiss depression: It's not just 'teenage blues'

I felt I wasn’t normal because there was something wrong with my brain.

I felt I wasn’t normal because there was something wrong with my brain.

As a teenager, I was depressed. Not the dress in black, listen to Nirvana, inflict scars to seem cool kind of depressed; but the real, see a psychiatrist once a month and a counsellor twice a week, placed on suicide watch kind of depressed.

I don’t recall the downhill slope to not feeling normal, but my mother must have noticed as one day she marched me to the doctor where I spent half an hour answering his questions and sobbing about how miserable and pointless everything was.

I was referred to an adolescent mental health unit where a psychiatrist diagnosed me with Clinical Depression, explained at the time as a chemical imbalance in my brain. After a couple of counselling sessions I was put on antidepressants. I still remember the first day on them – literally bouncing with energy down the road to high school, then falling asleep exhausted on the lounge floor during the 6 o’clock news.

I spent four years in counselling, during which time my medication and appointment frequency were altered as required. I won’t go into the full details of symptoms and events, but at my worst I had to take time off school and my after-school job as I simply wasn’t coping with anything; not an easy task for my parents who had to arrange a series of supervisors to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid whilst on my own.

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At first I didn’t want to tell anyone. I felt I wasn’t normal because there was something wrong with my brain and I didn’t want anyone to know I medically wasn’t ok.

My family were told so they were all aware of what was going on. Some didn’t understand the chemical imbalance and insisted there must be something that was making me depressed, constantly asking if it was school, work, or home. Others turned to books and read everything they could, determined to fix me by making me read pertinent passages. And some were in tears of fear and worry which only made me feel worse. But on the whole they were great and made sure I got everything I needed to get through.

I confided in my best friend and her reaction of "oh that sucks, do you want to watch a movie?" was perfect. Her attitude towards me didn’t change and she treated me as she always had, and still does.

I gained some confidence so told some other friends. Some didn’t seem to react either way, but others began looking at me differently and distancing themselves from me. I guess they weren't real friends. One went the opposite way and constantly asked me about my depression, how I was feeling on a level of 1-10, whether I’d taken my pills that day. I found myself distancing myself from her as she reduced our friendship to a list of symptoms that needed managing.

I made my way through those years with a lot of medical help and intervention, and I learned how to retrain my thought patterns and behaviour. But it still surprises me when I try to talk about my experience of depression 20 years later and get fobbed off with ‘that was just a case of the teenage blues’. Those years of my life are dismissed as hormonal teenage attention-seeking. They weren’t. They were real, and terrifying, and miserable. I cried, I was numb, I was convinced my life was a joke, I self-harmed, I gave myself an eating disorder. But I was not faking any of it.

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I am blessed to be one of the lucky ones who had a great support network and who made it through to be a stronger person today. But when my experiences are dismissed it makes me angry and sad and I want to hug teenage-me and tell her I believe her.

I have a number of people in my life with various mental illnesses from depression to paranoid schizophrenia, anxiety to bi-polar, and I see how much they struggle. When they talk to me about their experience, present or past, I do not dismiss their fears and worries because I know they are real inside their heads and that can be a scary place to be.

We need wider understanding of mental illness to help with support, and part of this is accepting what people wish to share with us and not just dismissing it as a bad day. It is real. Acknowledge it, try to understand it, be aware then treat them as you ordinarily would.

Where to get help

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).


 - Stuff Nation


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