Changing the Discourse of Depression
“Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves.
The rate of suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college-age youth.” -Mental Health America
The World Health Organization reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the United States overall.
The instability of the teenage mind is well known. “The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction,” published by the National Institute of Medical Health asserts that the full maturation of the human brain is not complete until the early 20’s. Additionally, a study conducted by Dr. William Bor in 2014 compared research from the US, China, United Kingdom, Australia and Europe and concluded that depression rates are higher during this century than the previous century. Bor also stated that it is hard to pinpoint a specific reason for this rise, but a conglomeration of educational, cultural and economic components have most likely contributed to it. All of this biology and a rising rate of depression among adolescents makes for a deadly combination.
The Story of Conrad Roy and Michelle Carter
On June 13, 2014 an 18-year-old named Conrad Roy committed suicide in a Kmart parking lot in Massachusetts. While Conrad Roy may seem like another statistic, his story is unique because his girlfriend was the person who encouraged him to complete the act. Michelle Carter sent text messages to him throughout the last few months of their relationship reasoning with him that suicide was the best option for his family and most importantly his happiness. Her persuasions were discovered on Conrad’s phone and are currently being used to accuse her of involuntary manslaughter. The tragic event of Roy’s suicide highlights the existential need for improved depression education as well as suicide prevention in the United States.
Two years ago, Roy became part of this rising statistic when he died from carbon monoxide poisoning. His suicide was in response to prolonged symptoms of depression and constant encouragement from his girlfriend. When the police investigated Conrad’s phone, they discovered messages from his girlfriend such as, “When you get back from the beach you’ve gotta go do it,” and “You’re ready. You’re determined. It’s the best time to do it.”
Such texts are certainly damning evidence in the court of law. It would be easy to immediately write her off as severely mentally unstable and a sociopath, but that would not encompass the full story of this case. Carter was also dealing with her own health issues as stated in a New York Magazine Article, “Does Encouraging Suicide Make You A Killer?” Some of her classmates doubted her mental state and her lawyer even admitted that Carter spent some time in McLean Hospital at Harvard University. Therefore, what originally appeared to be a horrific report of a terrible young woman convincing her boyfriend to commit suicide morphed into two teens struggling for their lives amid their own depression.
Their story highlights the adversity that teenagers continue to face with regards to mental illness. Roy, after attempting an overdose at the age of 17 had seen medical professionals in the past, but he did not view his counseling as helpful. Carter, who received aid from the prestigious McLean Hospital, still had some lingering mental health problems. Both of their actions point to how some Americans are poorly educated about mental illnesses.
“Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better.” -Unknown
Changing the conversation
To combat depression, one must start at its source. Bor uncovered evidence that stated depression wasn’t a major concern until about the age of 10, the lower threshold of when students begin puberty. Schools in particular need to fight to de-stigmatize depression (especially among males) and to provide proper education before students are most vulnerable in high school. This education should cover warning signs, where to find help, the common suffering faced by both sexes, and the complexities of the treatment. While no education program is perfect, by allowing teenagers to openly discuss their problems with a trusted individual, they will begin to see depression as something that is common to many people in their lives and that it certainly does not justify an end to their existence. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to assume that what works for one person may be transmitted to all individuals because everyone has their own reason(s) for becoming depressed. One must not discredit one’s own ability to change their life according to what works for them.
Depression happens to individuals of all age groups, but the alarming growth of depression, especially the rise in young men, must be addressed. While women are diagnosed with depressed twice as much as men are, these statistics do not communicate the whole truth to each sex’s anguish. Male suicides consist of the vast majority of all suicides according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Also, a new study by Dr. Lisa A. Martin entitled Gender Differences in Depression: Implications for Recognizing Male-Type Symptoms in the Clinic suggests that men and women display different and sometimes contrasting symptoms for depression. According to this study, traditional approaches for diagnosing depression, such as recognizing irritability, stress, sleep issues, and low motivation, may not be appropriate for male patients. She argues that males are more prone to anger, substance abuse and aggressive behavior. When calculating a study with 5,000 individuals (roughly 3,000 women and 2,000 men) according to both ways of diagnosing depression, men slightly surpass women in rates of diagnoses. Therefore, medical professionals are gradually understanding reasons for men committing suicide at such an alarming rate. Also, consequently, this provides a possible explanation to why Roy left treatment for depression unsatisfied.
There will never be a total cure for depression, but clearly the current approaches and diagnoses are missing the mark. However, the solution starts at providing proper education for students and teachers. The hope is that once students are properly educated, they will carry that knowledge into the rest of their lives to begin to understand how they can help themselves and other cope with this illness. Once this is achieved, hopefully tragedies like what happened with Roy and Carter will be less frequent. It is important that teenagers realize that there is clear evidence of a rising pattern of depression across the globe and that they should not be convinced that no one can understand their suffering. Therefore, in solidarity teenagers can band together to overcome the effects of depression.