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3xEmonkey

When and How to Explain Depression (or any mental illness)?

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I'm not a expert. I only barely understand what's going on with me. Two concerning things have happened recently, and I'd like some input and info on how to handle this.

1) My 20 yo nephew went through a bad break up. First love, first heartbreak, that kind of bad. I feel like I was the only one who took him seriously. I guess I'm the only person in the family who remembers being 21 and crying til' ya' vomit. He tried to cut himself, but he's just not that guy. I talked to him for hours. I called him a couple of times every day. And every time he said he was depressed, I rolled my eyes and corrected him- he's dealing with grief. His was a temporary situation created by a traumatic change. His went away in 8 days. He was still sad, but healing. As hearts do. Now he's much better.

2) My best friend's 12 yo daughter has labeled herself depressed. My friend "Jane" monitors the google hangout "Anne" has with her friends. Anne and company have recently begun discussions regarding depression, ADHD, pansexuality, bisexuality, and identifying as agender and/or transgender. Anne calls herself pansexual, agender, and depressed. She's 12. I'm not trying to discredit her. She might identify as pansexual and agender. I don't think she really does, but I'm not entrenched in her personal life, and I wouldn't know how to immediately recognize those traits in a person. I do, however, firmly believe she does not have depression. Jane thinks she's 12 and freaking the fuck out like girls do. This kid isn't depressed. And not, you know, in the way that adults just ignore teen complaints. Not in the way people shrug things off. Jane and I are very good friends, and being able to live with, deal with, and identify mental illness symptoms plays a role in it. We're pretty sure these girls are just reaching for labels to find any way to identify with big concepts. They don't have sex lives. Their bodies and minds are trying to pick a direction. It seems like Anne is picking a destination, and probably for something a little less than attention but almost. 

So how do you talk to people, especially teens, about these things? My nephew will never learn. He will cling to depression like it is his favorite shirt. Some people are fine with being corrected about using depressed. (No, I don't correct everyone. Just the obviously nots.) How do you explain to a child that depression is a very serious condition, and that idly picking it like a lipstick color, trivializes it? Or how adopting LGBTQ labels from an already struggling community minimizes their very real concerns? She's 12 and desperate for an identity she can show her friends. I'm scared that explaining depression symptoms would only give her something to embrace, some new ways to behave to drive the point home. Jane and I don't want this girl to act it out only to become it. How can we talk to her about depression in other people? 

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Maybe not name it specifically, but just say something like how they're struggling with a long-term (or chronic) illness and so they require our understanding (or forgiveness) and accommodation where possible. ?

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Linguistically, saying that you are "depressed" does not necessarily imply that you are saying you have Major Depressive Disorder. If you actually look at the language in the DSM, the first criteria is, "depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day for a 2 week period." So one can have a depressed mood (be depressed) and not have Major Depression if this mood state doesn't last 2 weeks, isn't every day, or has other mitigating factors like grief, but with the way the language is, describing ones mood as "depressed" in this case is not actually wrong. Which is super annoying for distinguishing between normal emotions and clinical conditions, but the English language sucks like that sometimes. 

As for "Anne" identifying with labels like pansexual/agender, I don't really see a problem with this, and 12 seems about the age I remember first really considering my sexuality. Honestly, I don't see how teens experimenting with identities within the LGBTQ umbrella minimizes the concerns of this community. In fact, I would say that major signs, as well as results of true acceptance, will be when it becomes perfectly okay for people to consider openly that they might be LGBTQ even if they ultimately do not end up identifying that way. Being LGBTQ should not be something that is seen as so shameful that one must rule out all other options before embracing one or more of those identities. As to "how to immediately recognize those traits [pansexuality/agender] in a person" - you recognize them by someone telling you that is how they identify. They are labels describing internal experiences, so you won't externally recognize them. 

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Also, I know you say that you and the kid's mom are not ignoring the kid's complaints, but I think if a 12-year-old is saying they are depressed this needs to be addressed head-on.You can't always tell from the outside what anyone - teenager or not - is feeling on the inside. I was depressed and suicidal as a teenager but hid it very well because I was raised in a family where emotions were treated as shameful and I was made to feel guilty if I was anything except happy and successful. Her mom should ask her what is going on that she feels that "depression" describes her situation and make sure the girl knows she can talk about her feelings with her mom or with another trusted adult if she's not comfortable talking to mom. If it is normal teenage stuff, it's still better to have an adult who can support her and let her safely explore her feelings, and if it is something more, it's important that she doesn't feel like she has to hide her feelings and that appropriate support is available. 

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