Messages to other young adults with depression

When asked what messages they would give to other young people dealing with depression, the young adults we interviewed shared a range of insights and strategies that have worked for them. We summarize those messages here. Several other sections of this website provide additional, practical insight about coping with depression.

Accept and honor yourself

Depression, as Nadina put it, can feel like having a dark “dragon” inside oneself. This dragon often spawns low self-esteem, shame or self-hatred. Self-acceptance was described by some as an essential step in taming the dragon. In Shayne’s words, it’s essential to “search for positive aspects” of yourself and realize that depression is “most definitely not your fault.” (See also ‘Depression and healing’.)

It's critical, Ryan notes, to find a way to stop blaming yourself for depression.
Interview Transcript

So you just have to recognize that, and while you should support, I mean seek people who support you, ya know you shouldn’t, I guess you shouldn’t be super negative to them. Or make it their fault because it’s not, it’s not anybody’s fault, not even your own…

The last thing I said, it’s not your fault. I think I was just really blaming myself and doubting myself for feeling the way that I was. And so once you move past that it just, it just really opens doors.

DEP Ryan
Profile Info
Age at interview: 19
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 13

Background: Ryan lives with his girlfriend and her family in a suburb but is looking to move. He works as a janitor. He is White.

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Give yourself a break

Several people compensated for their low self-esteem by filling their schedule with many activities and setting unrealistic expectations. But as Kate put it, “Depression makes you tired and it makes you need to recover longer than other people. So you need to give yourself a break” and work towards a slower, more reflective pace for life. (See more about being kinder to yourself in ‘Depression and strategies for everyday life’ and ‘Holistic and integrative approaches to depression’.)

For Maya, living with depression means accepting that her capacity for life activities will be somewhat limited.
Interview Transcript

Are you familiar with the spoon theory of chronic illness? I think it applies to mental health very well. So there was this young woman and she’s trying to explain to her friend what it was like to live with chronic illness and I think she had something like lupus and then she was in a cafeteria and she was just like, “Alright spoons, alright ten spoons.” She was like, “I only have so many spoons each day.” She was like, “I want you to hold these spoons and then try and get through your day because everything you chose to do will cost you a spoon.” So, you know, you’re getting ready for school, you know what I mean, you’re getting ready for class that’s going to cost you one spoon. And then you go to your classes and that’s going to cost you two more spoons. And now it’s lunch time and so you can either skip lunch and, you know, get whatever this, you know, papers or whatever done but that’s going to cost you three spoons or you can eat lunch and that period of time will only cost you one spoon. You know what I mean, going out to coffee with a friend, that’s another spoon. You know what I mean, by the time you get to noon you’ve already used more than half of your spoons. And so sometimes you have to choose, am I going to do the dishes or am I going to get some work done, you know what I mean. It’s a lot of, “Am I going to get out of bed and go see my friends this evening, even though I know I’ll start with fewer spoons tomorrow?”. So it’s just being aware that sometimes when it comes to your own capacity, it’s kind of this zero sum game and that you don’t have as many spoons to spend as everyone else.

DEP Maya
Profile Info
Age at interview: 27
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 15

Background: Maya manages an adolescent program in a community center and lives with her boyfriend. She is Chinese American.

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Violet says if you open up with other people about depression, you may find many of them have similar experiences.
Interview Transcript

Some of my friends also have depression, I didn’t know until I came out and said it and they were like “Really you too?” like “I’ve been on Prozac for this many years.” and I was like “Really?” you know, just to know that they had struggled and I didn’t even know it. You know and they didn’t judge me at all for it.

DEP Violet
Profile Info
Age at interview: 23
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 22

Background: Violet is the mother of a young child and a part-time student. She has worked as a nanny. She lives with her father and daughter. She is Caucasian.

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Remember that things change over time

Many people we interviewed wanted to remind others that though depression may feel like a “dark shroud” at the moment, things will often change and begin to heal just with the passage of time.

Sierra Rose says not to forget the world can be at your feet once your circumstances change.
Interview Transcript

Once I moved out of my mom’s house, everything, doors opened up, everything opened up. There are valleys in front of us and we just have to seize them. We have to realize that, yeah we may have come from a really crappy background, our parents may not have cared or may have been alcoholics or drug addicts or abusive or not there at all or maybe they cared too much and suffocated you, but once you were out of that, the world literally is at your feet. And that was, oh my god if I had known how the world was at my feet when I was 16 and tried to kill myself, I would not have tried. I would have known that this is temporary, everything is temporary. Life has it’s ups and downs, if it was all flat you’re not living you know that beeping machine in the hospital goes up and down for a reason. And that to, to feel the good you have to feel the bad, without the bad there is no good.

DEP Sierra Rose
Profile Info
Age at interview: 18
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 11

Background: Sierra Rose lives in an apartment with her boyfriend, another roommate, and three beloved cats. She spent a week in the hospital shortly before her interview, and was continuing with out-patient care but struggling to pay for some of it. She is Italian and Jewish.

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Jacob says as he grew up his brain matured and he got better at managing his depression.
Interview Transcript

In the very beginning, it was absolutely chaotic and I had just a jumble of information and feelings and thoughts and emotions and worries. And I had no idea how to kind of package that up in a manageable way. And, and address it. And I feel like a lot of people a lot of younger people with depression are going to go through the exact same thing. And part of that is because being young, you just, that’s how your brain works. Your life is like that. It’s very chaotic and it’s not, it’s, it’s very hard to manage even without depression. So then you add that on top of it and it makes it even more difficult. So as you get older, and I hate to say that because that’s what my parents always said, but like, you get older, you get better at managing situations. But there will be a point where things start to just naturally clear up, because your brain develops and you’re able to just process information better, more effectively. And there will be a point where it starts to clear up a little bit, and then you can make decisive actions and then you can see the results of those and either continue that or try something else. And eventually it will get to the point where you, you figure out what works and what doesn’t. And once you get there, then it’s just maintaining it. It’s just, keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve figured it out so now it’s just, just keep going.

DEP Jacob
Profile Info
Age at interview: 25
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 18

Background: Jacob is a software engineer at a large company. He lives with his girlfriend and a cat. He is White.

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Ask for help

Most of those we interviewed recognized at some point in their dealings with depression that they “can’t do this alone” or (as one participant put it) “I wasn’t going to be able to help myself unless someone was behind me.” Many people said reaching out was a crucial step in coping with depression; others said just talking about their feelings was a relief. Across the board, young adults wanted others in their situation to know they were not alone and encouraged them not to “suffer in silence.” As Meghan says, “I would have accomplished a lot more if I would have reached out sooner in a lot of different aspects of my life.

Teddy says don't wait too long to get help.
Interview Transcript

The main thing I want to add is, if you first get depressed and you realize it, go seek help because if you let it continue on and on it’s going to get worse and it’s going to be harder to fix it. Because [Coughed] I let mine go, I kept having it, it kept getting worse and worse and it was really bad. And then I decided to get help like, if I had help at the ready, like in the beginning, it probably wouldn’t have been here. So just try to get help as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit there for a while because it’s just going to be harder and harder and a lot longer for you to get rid of your depression.

DEP Teddy
Profile Info
Age at interview: 18
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 16

Background: Teddy is a high school graduate who lives at home with his parents, siblings, and dog. His goal is either to focus on music or to become a vet technician and work with animals. He is African American and Latino.

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Violet says if you open up with other people about depression, you may find many of them have similar experiences.

Some of my friends also have depression, I didn’t know until I came out and said it and they were like “Really you too?” like “I’ve been on Prozac for this many years.” and I was like “Really?” you know, just to know that they had struggled and I didn’t even know it. You know and they didn’t judge me at all for it.

DEP Violet
Profile Info
Age at interview: 23
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 22

Background: Violet is the mother of a young child and a part-time student. She has worked as a nanny. She lives with her father and daughter. She is Caucasian.

Click here to view Violet's profile page

Avoid self-destructive behaviors

With the hindsight of experience and some hard-won wisdom, many young adults urged others to refrain (if they can) from self-destructive behaviors which make cycles of depression worse in the long run.

Brendan says that depression is real, but that doesn't mean you are powerless to stop or slow negative feedback loops.
Interview Transcript

Depression is real. Depression is a real thing that affects you based off of brain chemistry and based off of a million other things. But that is not the same thing as being powerless against it. And if you choose to dwell in your misery, if you choose to list all the, you know, all the things that you didn’t get to do or if you, you know. If you dwell on it, you’re only making that feedback loop worse, and cutting is just an ultimate example of that because it’s really, it’s like this temporary relief but it gets you deeper into the negativity into the self-sabotage.

DEP Brendan
Profile Info
Age at interview: 21
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 15

Background: Brendan has three jobs and is a fulltime college student and musician. He lives in an apartment with a roommate. Ethnic background is White.

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James tells his younger self to stay in school and avoid getting in trouble.
Interview Transcript

I’d just tell him if you going, if you young and you going through depression like at a young age I would just say, I mean, just stay in school, like, that’s the thing like, I mean all you have to say is just stay in school like, I know it’s going to be hard but just like as long as you don’t, just stay away from any gangs, like you don’t need that like it’s not, it’s not worth it so I just like, stay in school like, if school hard just like you got to find some like tools or something just push yourself hard like.

DEP James
Profile Info
Age at interview: 22
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 21

Background: James is unemployed. He lives with his mother. He has a 2 year-old daughter but does not have parental rights. He is African American.

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Control what you can control

While acknowledging that depression sometimes seemed to have controlled their lives, many people we interviewed felt that retaining a sense of control over depression was important for coping and healing. They urged others experiencing depression to hold onto a mix of hope and commitment – hope that change is possible, commitment to make that change more likely. As Sam put it, “I would absolutely want to give the message… [that] there is almost always the means with which a situation can be made better”.

Sam has learned that depression can always be made better by using one of several specific coping mechanisms.
Interview Transcript

I would absolutely want to give the message that, not that it gets better because that’s not a thing that magically happens, but there is almost always the means with which a situation can be made better. Sometimes that involves extricating yourself from situations that are unsalvageable. Sometimes that involves taking an honest and sometimes painful, look at your own self and your own behavior and making a determined effort to change it. Sometimes it involves trying to unlearn very painful but powerful ways of looking at the world that are not the most healthy and trying to relearn new ones in their place. Sometimes it involves just eating an ice cream cone. There is almost always the possibility of a situation being made better. It involves a lot of work, but it can be done.

DEP Sam
Profile Info
Age at interview: 23
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 19

Background: Sam works as a young professional to earn money to resume his university studies. He lives in an apartment with a roommate. He is White.

Click here to view Sam's profile page

Others emphasized making a commitment to coping with or healing depression. Elizabeth, for example, said “You have to put effort in to make it work, it’s not going to just happen by a magical potion which I have hoped for many times because it was too hard to work at and it was too painful to work at. But if you put in time and effort and energy and you really really address and confront who you are and what depression is all about, it’s easier to get through that way.” Marty wanted to convey this single, powerful message: “don’t let depression control you.”

Shayne says that in order to heal she had to stop being resigned to her sadness.
Interview Transcript

Becoming complacent with your sadness is one of the most dangerous things because then you’re not willing to, you know, accept that there are better parts of your life. You’re basically giving up on the better parts of your life if you’re willing to be sad and you have to want to get better and you have to be willing to take those steps. And it’s a lot of steps and it really fucking sucks. It’s a lot of steps and it can be really painful and sometimes they’re backwards steps and you know, it’s just, it’s a process but it’s your life. You have to take it seriously. It’s not like, “Oh I don’t need to take my medication”. It’s not like ibuprofen for your twisted ankle, it’s, it’s your life. It’s how you interact with other human beings, how you interact with yourself, how you think about yourself, how you feel about yourself, how you feel about other people, how you interact with other people…

DEP Shayne
Profile Info
Age at interview: 27
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 13

Background: Shayne lives in a house with two roommates and three cats. She works in research, exercises regularly, and does art. She is White.

Click here to view Shayne's profile page
Nadina says the first step in maintaining a hopeful attitude is learning not to give up, and remembering that bad times have come and gone in the past.
Interview Transcript

…When I was younger I thought depression would be the end of me, but now that I’m older I feel that it is a challenge that many people deal with and it’s an ongoing battle and like life is just kind of an ongoing battle, and you know if you can make it through one day, like you can make it through so many more. And just to not give up, I know that’s such an overused thing, you know, not giving up, but sometimes that’s all you have to resort to is just to like keep staying strong, to really fight through your demons and, and other people’s sometimes and realize that you may not have control over everything but you have control over how you perceive things and how you feel about things. And sometimes it gets really hard to where you may not feel like you can deal with these things, but if you’ve dealt with horrible things in the past and you’ve made it through it, I’m positive you can make it through the next round of things that [Laugher] may not be particularly positive. But you know, that’s just kind of how life is. And I know it’s a struggle, but everybody feels that struggle to some extent.

DEP Nadina
Profile Info
Age at interview: 23
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: N/A

Background: Nadina lives with her parents in a suburb near a small city. She completed college and works as a freelance illustrator. She is Caucasian.

Click here to view Nadina's profile page

See also ‘Depression and healing’, ‘Depression and strategies for everyday life’, ‘The positive sides of depression, and ‘Having a purpose in life’.

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