~ Trigger Alert! ~
For some it seems incomprehensible that a young girl, a child, in a white cotton socks, an unfurrowed brow and pigtails could ever be Depressed. Depression is earned by the deserving, those who have traversed a difficult lifetime of tragedies. But even then our sympathy does tend to be limited, after all if the poor person has already got through so much then surely they just need to pull their socks up, stop moping and get on with life. But Young Depression? What do you say or do? Do you even believe it’s possible?
Childhood is meant to be innocent idyll. There are some that believe that view is only a myth created by fantasising Victorians, perpetuated by children’s story writers in the 1930s and hauntingly reprieved in the post war 1950s. Childhood hasn’t always been an easy rite of passage, it wasn’t ever easy to survive and for most, it was hard work, poverty, misery and sickness all the way. But it’s also a time of youth, of make belief and fairy tales, of play. It always has been so too. Otherwise how would children learn to be adults?
Then there is a further idyll that we fantasise about, the perfect family. Young Depression destroys that fantasy, tearing through it like a freight train. Beyond the stigma of Depression, we seek to find a fault, a blame. Depression has to be caused by something. If your child is Depressed then we simple-mindedly conclude that the family structure is to blame. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But that attitude doesn’t exactly encourage parents to seek help for their child. And without appropriate help and support, the consequences can be devastating.
Even though we struggle to comprehend Young Depression, we also react to these child victims in the same way as we do to adults battling mental health. What did they do wrong, why are they so weak? Depression is easily, too easily, blamed on some inherent personality weakness. In children and teenagers we go further. They’re acting out or up. We use words like melodramatic and attention seeker, we just see the behaviours and laugh them off. As they grow into teenagers, the symptoms of Depression merge with those of adolescence: bolshy, withdrawn, sleeping too much, eating too much, flying off the handle. It’s quicker and easier to put the behaviour down to their age but sometimes it’s worth looking a little deeper and asking a few more questions.
If we don’t do that then too many children and teenagers fall through the net. When I was little, there was no so thing as Young Depression. There was no such concept. It was bad behaviour if there was ever a label to be stuck on my head, I was weird, I was a freak. It was the world against me. Literally, sometimes.
But it does happen. 10% of children will suffer a mental health problem. In their childhood. That’s one in ten. You probably know someone who’s fifteen, someone who’s ten, someone who’s six. Now picture them in their classroom, there’s probably going to be about thirty pupils there. Three of those children are likely to be suffering, right then and there, on average. Scary?
Childhood trauma has always caused Depression, or perhaps more accurately increased the risk of a person suffering. But the onset was often delayed, children don’t always appreciate the seriousness of a situation straightaway and also often accept their situation as the norm. Nowadays with children being constantly bombarded with media images of perfect families and hunky-dory, ticketyboo situations, the pressure also falls to them and they consciously weigh their family circumstances against the models they are presented with. Experts also agree that stress is increasing with each new generation and with it the increased risk of developing a depression.
I was the most innocent, sheltered, naïve child that you can imagine. The argument that the Internet is making self-harm and suicide accessible and even fashionable to a younger audience than ever wasn’t relevant to my generation. The Internet hadn’t even been invented (or technically, maybe not publicised). I knew nothing of suicide. I wasn’t even allowed to watch the evening news because of the risk of nightmares (I have a low scare threshold, remember?).
I remember the pain rising within me. It was unbelievably raw. I didn’t know what it was or where it came from. I would scratch at my arms and twist holes in the lacework of my socks, hoping to find some relief, trying to lessen the pain. The pain was so bad that I wanted to die. I was nine maybe. That pain has continued to follow me and it was nearly a decade later that I realised that this pain had a name. Depression.
Sometimes I wonder how I survived my teenage years but more importantly, sometimes I wonder if earlier intervention, better support, more understanding would have made a difference. That’s why I’m begging all of you to look out for the young ones in your lives, to dare to ask the questions that you may not want the answers and to be there for them through everything. Acknowledging that it may be a possibility doesn’t make it the possibility, you know? Just keep a watchful eye on them so that more can be spared the pain. Please?