By Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge, LCSW
The following is an article for girls from the New Moon Girls March-April 2015 issue. Jill answers questions from girls at NMGMembers.com/ask-jill
Ever worry that someone you love is feeling depressed? Try these tactics that are good for any girl.
I’ve been a therapist for over 20 years, and I specialize in helping tween and teen girls. Over the years, girls have asked me hundreds of different questions. The topics vary widely, but these two are by far the most common ones: “What is depression?” and “Am I depressed?” So here are some ideas about what you can do if you think you (or a friend) may be depressed.
Different Kinds of Depression
First of all, it’s important to know that depression can arise in two different ways. One kind of depression is called “situational depression.” Situational depression means that you feel sad, moody, or down because something bad or disappointing happened in your life, such as a fight with a friend, a bad grade, not making a sports team, your parents fighting and/or getting divorced, or a death of a family member, friend, or pet.
Of course, it’s absolutely NORMAL to feel sad during these times. You may have these symptoms: not being able to concentrate, having problems getting to sleep and/or feeling exhausted in the morning, having a lack of appetite or a bigger appetite than usual, and not having as much energy as you usually have during the day. You may also feel irritable, impulsive, and may even have self-destructive thoughts or behavior.
These symptoms usually don’t last for more than a few weeks, especially if you can talk to someone you trust who helps you gain perspective about your difficult situation.
The other kind of depression is called “clinical depression.” Clinical depression may, or may not, be related to the bad or disappointing things that happen to you. A clinical depression often happens “out of the blue.” For example, you may feel sad and weepy and not know why. Or you may have depressive symptoms, such as changes in appetite, change in sleep habits, low energy level, irritability, lack of interest in things you normally like to do, or self-destructive behavior—for no apparent reason.
A clinical depression doesn’t go away without treatment. A person who is clinically depressed will feel a lot better when she and her family find a clinical social worker, clinical psychologist, or other professional who can help her figure out how to cope with the depressed feelings. She may also get some relief by taking medicine called antidepressants. Medicine doesn’t “cure” depression, but it can lift a girl’s mood so that she has more energy to function and to use the coping skills she learns in therapy.
If you think you may be depressed, the best thing to do is to tell your parent, grandparent, teacher, doctor, or other trusted adult. She or he will help you get the help that you need.
Here are some ways that girls I know have coped with depression. Try out some of these coping skills. Maybe one will work for you!
Special Statements are things you can say to yourself to feel better when you feel sad or depressed. They are soothing, inspiring affirmations that can help you put your feelings into perspective and to calm yourself.
Mattie, 12, has felt bad about herself for two years. She thinks this may be in part due to the fact that her body developed more quickly than her friends, and she was teased about being the tallest girl in her class in 5th grade.
Mattie’s Special Statement is: “I’m my own normal.” When she feels bad about herself or her body, she says this to herself and it helps lift her mood. Mattie says that repeating this “helps me not to feel so weird. My friends are catching up to me now, but for a while I was the only one who wore a bra and the only one who had to use deodorant. It is my own family normal, because my mom was an early developer, too.”
Distracting yourself, or doing something that takes your mind off your low mood, can help you feel better. Even if the relief is temporary, distraction can be an important coping skill for depressed feelings.
Megan, 13, has felt depressed, on and off, since her cat Molly died six months ago. Megan got Molly when she was two, and says that Molly “was part of the family.” When Megan feels sad about her cat, she bakes. Megan loves to bake pies. Her mom taught her how to make a pie crust from scratch, and now she gets lots of compliments for her apple pies. Megan says, “When I make a pie, my mind is on the pie and I don’t think about being sad. It is very good therapy!”
Talking to a professional really helps when you’ve felt depressed for more than a few weeks, and nothing seems to help. Counselors and therapists who work with tweens, teens, and their families have experience helping girls who are depressed, and will give you the tools you need to feel better.
When Mandy, 13, became depressed, her mom wasn’t surprised. Clinical depression runs in Mandy’s family: Two of her aunts have depression and so does her grandmother. Last year, Mandy had low energy and often didn’t want to go to school. She loved playing the piano and going to the mall with her friends, but all of a sudden, nothing sounded like fun. Mandy said, “I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry in my bed.”
Mandy’s parents noticed the change in her mood, and asked Mandy if anything had happened to make her feel so bad. Mandy couldn’t think of anything—school and her friendships were going okay. Mandy began talking with a therapist every week. But she still didn’t feel well enough to go out with her friends and had problems sleeping.
The therapist recommended a psychiatrist, and Mandy tried the recommended antidepressants. The combination of therapy and medicine is helping Mandy feel like herself again. Mandy puts it this way: “I couldn’t help myself when I was depressed. It was like a huge black cloud over me. But the medication helps and my therapist is great—she doesn’t tell me what to do. She helps me come up with what I can do to help myself. I’m doing really well now.”
Always remember that depression gets better when you get the help you need. One good thing about having a problem like depression is that you will learn your own personal coping skills for life’s ups and downs. And you will have them forever!
For trusted resources on depression, self harm, suicide prevention, and many more difficult issues girls deal with, visit our new Resources For Girls & Parents on NMGMembers.com.
Jill is the author of Dealing With The Stuff That Makes Life Tough: The Ten Things That Stress Girls Out and How To Cope With Them and Picture Perfect: What You Need To Feel Better About Your Body. She answers questions from girls at NMGMembers.com/ask-jill.
Something you do every day can make a real difference! Learn how girls are eating local, growing their own food, fighting for fair food production, and more—all of it keeping Mother Earth greener for everyone. Download this free e-ebooklet from our September-October 2011 issue and celebrate Earth Day every day.