"I hate you," she stated matter-of-factly, staring stone-faced at the floor. Those were the last words I'd ever expected to hear from my daughter, Jaclyn*. She'd been a delightful childseemingly carefree, with a sense of humor that always brought a smile. But over the past two years, she'd been seething with anger. As I sat across from her bed, beneath the harsh fluorescent glare of a high-security psychiatric unit, no one was smiling.
Jaclyn, 16, had been admitted to the hospital a few days earlier when her behavior became so bizarre we feared for her safety. She'd been receiving treatment for depression. But while the medication initially helped, she'd become increasingly despondent, highly agitated, and unable to sleep or attend school. When I found the word "die" scrawled on Jacyln's bedroom wall in her blood, I knew my husband and I needed help to protect her. Jaclyn was placed in the hospital's new pediatric psych ward, where she was diagnosed with major clinical depression and social anxiety disorder.
By the third day, my daughter demanded we release her from the hospital. "Jaclyn, I can't take you home until the doctor believes you're well enough," I explained, afraid for her safety.
"Fine. Then I never want to see you again." Her icy response sent a shiver through my soul.
It's the illness talking, I attempted to assure myself. But I was heartbroken. I longed to be reunited with the happy little girl I hadn't seen in years.
Unfortunately, my family's experience isn't uncommon. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 8.3 percent of adolescents in the U.S. suffer from some form of depression. Adolescence is noted for mood swings and unpredictable behavior, and the symptoms of depression often are attributed to normal teenage angst. For many, moodiness is a passing phasebut when it persists longer than a few weeks and interferes with a teen's ability to function, it's categorized as a biological disease called major depressive disorder (or major clinical depression), a serious but treatable mental illness that changes how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Depression impairs concentration, decreases motivation, and hampers a young person's ability to succeed. If you suspect, or know, that your teen is depressed, help is available. And while you can't cure your teenager's illness, there are steps you can take to help your adolescent cope with it.1