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By Julia Diemer, West Branch junior
WEST BRANCH - Cancer is almost universally known as a terrible illness that can tear lives apart.
There are various treatments that work, some that don’t and doctors have to try again and again to find a cure. Sometimes, there isn’t a cure. Patients have days where they are doing better and days that seem unbearable.
But would you ever think to tell a cancer patient to just "get over it?"
Re-read the opening paragraph, but replace the word "cancer" with "depression." Yes, much like cancer, depression is classified as a medical illness. Yet to those who live with it, it is much more.
"Victoria," an anonymous teenager who suffers from mild depression, defines the illness in a different way.
“Depression is like being in an overwhelming slump you just can’t quite get out of,” she said.
Victoria’s depression comes in waves and really affects her energy level and drive. Some days are just fine, others are much harder to cope.
“When it hits, there is no energy, like none at all," she said. "You just feel mentally drained all the time and your mind is running at a thousand miles per hour."
Many times, people who do not endure the disease believe it is merely a mental state that is in the individual’s immediate control. Victoria believes differently.
“It is not something you can control," she said. "You can’t just suddenly flip a switch and be happy.”
With any ailment, there are varying degrees of depression. Victoria’s depression appears and disappears depending on the day, which affects her energy levels and drive. Others suffer more frequently and with more intensity than those with mild depression.
"Audrey," another young adult who did not want her real name used, has severe depression and has even been hospitalized because of her condition.
“Depression is a dark cloud that keeps you from seeing any beauty in the world, even if it’s there," Audrey said. "It makes you feel like there’s no happiness and no hope."
Audrey said she did not have any energy and often couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. She had no motivation to be a part of things or get involved in normal activities that, to many, are fun.
“It’s hard to find any meaning in life and you don’t know why," she said. "Sometimes there isn’t a reason and you don’t understand why you’re feeling the way you do. It feels hopeless."
A few years ago, Audrey’s condition took a turn for the worse. She planned to kill herself. Audrey had drawn out the details of her suicide. However, there was one flaw in her plan and she didn’t know how to fix it.
She didn’t want her mom to be the one to find her body.
Luckily, Audrey’s mother discovered the plan instead Audrey was admitted to the hospital.
“At the time, I just felt totally empty and completely dead inside, like I had no emotions," she said. "I thought I could never be happy again. I honestly wanted to die. I had given up on myself and was telling myself that I didn’t deserve a life and that I didn’t deserve to live. I had myself convinced that I couldn’t be happy, ever again."
According to teenhelp.com, untreated depression is the No. 1 cause of suicide among teenagers. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens. Furthermore, depression can make a teenager 12 times more likely to attempt suicide.
Eventually, Audrey pulled through and underwent six years of therapy, one-and-a-half years of group therapy and took a surplus of medications. She decided to use God as a beacon of light and listened to her faith as well for guidance.
Teenhelp.com also found that less than 33 percent of teens with depression get help, yet 80 percent of all teens with the illness can be successfully treated.
“I work really hard every single day to keep using the things I learned in treatment in my daily life," Audrey said. "I have a lot of skills that I learned that I have to use every single day just to keep on going."
Audrey and Victoria agree that connecting with other people who have depression has helped tremendously.
“Talking with people is honestly the best way to get your emotions out," Victoria said. "You have to find someone you’re completely comfortable with and tell them how you honestly feel."
Audrey said “therapy and group therapy (along with medications) have totally turned my life around.”
Audrey feels she’s come out the other side and is really trying to listen to God’s plan. Using her medications and therapy, she has made an effort to turn things around and is feeling much better.
“Always remember that nothing lasts forever," she said. "Feelings are not permanent. No matter how bad you are feeling right now that it’s not something that will stick forever."
The Crisis Center of Johnson County holds a 24-hour crisis hotline that offers immediate help to those who have suicidal thoughts or those who need to talk about their depression. The number is (319) 351- 0140. A website called www.Iowacrisischat.org offers free instant messaging capabilities for people to connect directly to a counselor and chat about their struggles. The hours for instant messaging a counselor are Monday through Friday from 2 to 8 p.m.