Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. My friends call me weird for seeing a therapist. They make fun of me every day at school. I go to one because I’m depressed. Should I stop?

– 15-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: No, you should not stop seeing your therapist. Your health is important, and true friends would support you. Let’s talk about depression and friendship.

As easy as it might be to judge your friends, I think it’s important to look at their possible confusion about mental health. Many people think seeking help for depression isn’t necessary because a person dealing with depression can just “make it better,” “fix it,” or “think positively until it goes away.” This attitude can be damaging, since it may keep a young person from seeking help.

No one expects someone with a broken leg to make it better without help from a medical doctor. Depression is just as real and in need of support as a physical problem. A therapist provides treatment for depression, just as an orthopedic doctor provides treatment for a broken bone.

Depression isn’t just feeling sad. Most people experience sad times. For depression to be clinically diagnosed, the sadness is severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to function in some way. It is more common among teens than many people think. NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) states that up to 20% of adolescents experience depression before reaching adulthood. In 8% of the cases, the depression lasts beyond a year.

Your friends may not understand depression, they may be misinformed about your ability to ‘snap out of it,’ and they even may be afraid of the diagnosis. Fear can be a strong motivator for judging others.

You can try to explain the reality of depression to your friends, or you can seek other friends with whom you can spend time free of judgment. You owe no one an explanation for your health; the choice of how or if you approach them is yours. Friends are people we choose to create a group with whom we can laugh, have fun, and grow. If these friends do not care enough to try to understand your mental health needs, sadly, there are others. I realize changing friendships can be challenging. If you do talk with them, start with one friend. Hopefully you will find support.

Have you shared your friends’ comments with your therapist? It would we wise to do so. An orthopedic doctor needs to know about pain as a limb heals; a therapist needs to know the challenges you’re facing as you heal.

Good luck.

Peer Educator Response: Find better friends. Real friends care about your well-being. Take care of you. Stay with the therapy. Be sure you connect with your therapist, too. If you’re given meds, take them. If you feel strange when you take meds, tell your therapist right away. You can and will get better.

Q. My mom is very depressed. My dad says she’s OK. He says we just need to do things to make her happy. I’m just a kid and I know she’s not going to get better without help.

My dad reads your column. I think it would help if you write something that makes him realize mom needs to see a therapist.

– 12-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: I’m proud of you for reaching out. You show maturity and empathy for your mom’s feelings. Facing a parent’s depression can be isolating and frightening. You’re not alone.

Please show your dad this column. Denying your mom’s depression won’t help her. Often those close to us fear mental health therapy. Depression is invisible. Your dad may wish she were not depressed. Talk with him.

If your dad won’t support your mom by getting her help, please talk with another trusted adult in your family. A grandparent, aunt, uncle or older cousin could help. Don’t try to face this without support.

Your mom’s depression is not your fault. Adults have problems, too, just like young people. Seeking help is responsible and caring; you didn’t do anything to make her clinically depressed. You’re helping her by seeking help.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email, podmj@healthyteens.com/.

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