Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way you think, feel, and behave. It causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness that can last anywhere from a few days to a few years. This is different than being upset about a minor setback or disappointment in your day.
Some people may experience mild depression only once in their lives, while others have several severe episodes over their lifetime. This more serious, long-lasting and intense form of depression is known as major depressive disorder (MDD). It may also be referred to as clinical depression or major depression.
The symptoms of MDD significantly interfere with daily activities, such school, work, and social events. They also impact mood and behavior as well as various physical functions, such as sleep and appetite. To be diagnosed with MDD, you must display five or more of the following symptoms at least once a day over the course of two weeks:
*persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
*lack of interest in doing most activities, including those you once enjoyed
*decrease or increase in appetite accompanied by extreme weight loss or weight gain
*sleeping too much or too little
*excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt or worthlessness
*difficulty making decisions, thinking, and concentrating
*multiple thoughts of death or suicide
*a suicide attempt
People of any age may develop MDD, but the average age of onset is 32. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, approximately 14.8 million American adults, or 6.7 percent of the United States population over age 18, are affected by MDD every year. The disorder also occurs in about one in 33 children and one in eight teens. In both children and adults, MDD may be treated with psychological counseling, antidepressant medication, or a combination of both therapies.
Researchers don’t know exactly why some people develop MDD, but they believe the following factors may play a role:
Genetics: It appears that people with a family history of MDD are more likely to develop the disorder than others.
Stress: A stressful life event, such a divorce or death of a loved one, can trigger an episode of MDD.
Biochemical reactions: Chemicals in the brains of people with MDD seem to function differently than those in the brains of those without the disorder.
Hormone imbalances: Changes in the balance of hormones may trigger MDD in certain people, especially during menopause or during and after pregnancy.
Hunter Kent, a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School, spent many of her teen years battling depression, a devastating condition that is often easy to hide and difficult to acknowledge. She courageously shares her profound journey from despair to peace, and how she now uses her past suffering to connect and empathize with her fellow students in need of encouragement and hope.
I’m sure all of us can remember a time when we were sad, upset, or discouraged: a pet died, you got a bad grade, you had a fight with your best friend, and you’re sad. That’s natural.
But eventually, a day, a week, a month passes, and we feel better, and even though the pain may not be completely forgotten, even though those brief periods of unhappiness should still be taken seriously, it passes, we feel better.
But when you’re living with depression, it doesn’t just pass. It can strike after a tragedy, or emerge out of the blue. It can come from stress and pressure from school, friends, and family, bullying and emotional abuse, and the media that damages our perception of self-image and self-worth.
I grew up as a shy, quiet, and introverted kid. I had friends, but in third grade, my sister, who I was very close to, left to live with another family, and after she left, I became lonely.
My depression started taking a toll on me in eighth grade. I rarely talked in school, and although my grades were good, I had no motivation. I felt very lost, and once I was in that rut it felt impossible to try and get out.
I’d heard about cutting, how people hurt themselves to try and cope with their depression. So I tried it, and it became a habit, a go-to when I felt numb for three years.
The rest of eighth grade was hard. I was irritable, angry at the whole universe and angry at myself most of all. The voices in my head were awful, self-loathing, and hateful. I cried almost every day, at the littlest of things, and felt nothing. I would have happily stopped existing.
When I went into freshman year, my grades started to go down. I didn’t have the motivation or energy to try harder. That year, I was sent to a therapist. She really didn’t help me at all, though. In fact, she actually made me feel worse.
Between freshman and sophomore year, I created a secret Instagram account. I wanted to reach out to other people also struggling with depression.
Then, sophomore year started, and my depression got worse, but I was chosen to be a part of the school’s Natural Helpers Program that year. Natural Helpers. It had to be a mistake. All the other natural helpers were outgoing and confident.
Then, it occurred to me: it was my Instagram, because reaching out to others on there was just as noticeable as reaching out to others in school. However, my self-destructive actions continued, forcing me to wear long sleeves and thick bracelets, so no one would see, and I started depriving myself of food.
I was sent to a different counseling place which included group therapy. That didn’t help either, though, because I had no interest in getting better. I just didn’t care.
During these years, there were many times when I wanted to die. I didn’t necessarily want to kill myself, but I wanted to stop existing.
I became unsafe. One night, the weekend before final exams, someone who still remains anonymous to me was afraid for my safety and called 911. I had gone to bed and woke up later that night to police officers in my living room, saying they got the call, saying I had to go to the hospital.
I spent the fear-racked night in the emergency room, talking to various doctors and counselors, crying into the scratchy and blue hospital gown.
Talking to my parents was the worst part. I felt like I had let them down because I wasn’t as strong as they thought I was.
School ended, summer began, and I felt just as lost as before. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
A few weeks into summer, my parents decided to sign me to a summer camp called Tanglewood up in Lincolnville, to do a three-week leadership program. Yeah, a three-week leadership program. Perfect! Just what I needed.
I was furious. The thought of living in the woods with other teenagers who I didn’t know was terrifying. Despite my pleading, I had no choice.
There were five other kids in the leadership program, two girls and three boys, and one male and female counselor. At first, I tried to isolate myself from them. I was scared to open myself up to them.
But after all the challenge courses and group-bonding activities, after eight days of hiking and canoeing in the wilderness, I grew to trust them. They involved me in games and conversations. They offered me a seat next to them. They paid attention to me when I shared an idea. They went out of their way to make me laugh.
On the fourth night of our trip, we were all sitting around the fire, and one of our counselors told us we’d be doing PSs, personal stories.
Every night, two of us would tell our life stories to the rest of the group. I decided I was definitely going last.
Every night, the eight of us would pack ourselves into the boys’ tent which was only meant to hold three people.
My turn finally came, and I was extremely nervous, but I decided to take the chance and tell them everything. I told them about my depression and anxiety. I told them about the hospital night, I told them everything.
We stayed up until three in the morning talking, and when our counselors finally sent us to bed, I followed the other girls to our tent, and I remember just stopping for a moment and looking up at the sky, at all the stars, and I realized that I was smiling uncontrollably for the first time in years.
I had hoped at the very least that they wouldn’t stop being my friends after I told them about myself that night. I didn’t expect that for the rest of the three weeks at camp, we would become even closer. We became a family.
I realized that I was cared for, and that I was loved. It hit me. I could be free from my depression. I didn’t have to just live with it for the rest of my life.
Since then, things have only gotten better. In the fall of junior year, I learned to stop judging people, and made dozens of new friends. Later in junior year, I went into freshman health classes, and spoke to them about overcoming pressure and judgment in high school.
After receiving hand-written letters from the freshmen, I knew that was my words and story I could change the world.
I still use my Instagram to post encouraging quotes and personal stories to my almost 3,000 followers, including lots of my classmates.
Every day, I’m reminded of the impact my kind words have. I’m beginning to fall in love with myself, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
I know that there are people in this audience who’ve experienced or are currently struggling with depression. This is for you: you are not in a bottomless pit. You are not in an endless tunnel without light. You are not a hopeless cause. Help is out there. You are loved and you are cared for. You have the power and the right to achieve everything you want in life.
My life didn’t just get better on its own. With help from friends, old and new, I realized that I am worth so much more than what I once thought, and that I have the power and the ability to view the world in a new way, as a place full of endless opportunities and amazing people.
I’ve opened myself up to what the universe has to offer, and I’ve created my own beautiful life. I have emerged.