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Young Adults’ Experiences of Depression in the U.S.

Depression and healing

Recovery from depression can involve getting help from professionals (for example, medication or therapy), or helping yourself (for example, reaching out to friends and family or developing strategies for managing day-to-day life). These are all elements in a larger process of getting better or “healing” described by many people we interviewed. The healing process is rarely one quick “fix”; it usually consists of many steps and unfolds in different ways for different people. For almost everyone, though, healing requires a sustained commitment to get better.
 

Shayne says that in order to heal she had to stop being resigned to her sadness.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 13
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Becoming complacent with your sadness is one of the most dangerous things because then you’re not willing to, you know, accept that there are better parts of your life. You’re basically giving up on the better parts of your life if you’re willing to be sad and you have to want to get better and you have to be willing to take those steps. And it’s a lot of steps and it really fucking sucks. It’s a lot of steps and it can be really painful and sometimes they’re backwards steps and you know, it’s just, it’s a process but it’s your life. You have to take it seriously. It’s not like, oh I don’t need to take my medication. It’s not like ibuprofen for your twisted ankle, it’s your life. It’s how you interact with other human beings, it’s how you interact with yourself, how you think about yourself, how you feel about yourself, how you feel about other people, how you interact with other people…
 
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For Jason, healing began with a desire to feel better and a wiliness to be truthful to himself and others about needing help.

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 22
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You talked earlier about the part of yourself that really wanted to feel better.

Mhmm. 

Do you think there’s a way people can find that voice in themselves and tune into it?

I think that it goes back to the few of the things that I mentioned earlier. First of all, being strong. I think because I was strong, I wanted to feel better. I was trying to be optimistic. I wanted to feel better. So that was that force that was drawing me towards that. I think I was also truthful to myself. You know, truthful that I suffer from this problem, truthful that I do need help, truthful that I do want to get better. And I was going to be open to the people who wanted to help me, I think. 

Yup.

That was it, and the last thing was I, you know, I was willing to seek help and so, yeah.
Getting ready to heal

People get prepared for healing in different ways. Some people find it is crucial to change their mindset, expectations, and attitudes -- getting out of “old traps” and trying new approaches. Joey moved from accepting “all right” as an improvement over his depression to believing, “I can do better than this,” and then trying to make that happen. Frankie said that in order to “veer herself” in good directions, she needed to pause to think and be “mindful.”
 
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For Colin, learning to be grateful even for the depression journey had a big impact and helped prevent negatives from becoming overwhelming.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 18
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Every little joy that I find, is just so amplified by the utter absence of it in the past. The littlest positive thing will all the sudden be so important to me. Just because it's a foreign [inaudible], but learning to accept those and appreciate them is, I guess that also comes to something I'd add. Because my new therapist has been working with me on this. And I thought it was cliché because everybody talks about it, but it's not. Gratitude. Just be grateful for every little thing that you can be grateful for. Because there's so many terrible things that happen every day. But if you sit down and recognize, you don't even have to write it down, although it is kind of healthy, just a couple of things that you were grateful for throughout the day, just a big impact on my life. And it makes you realize just the ways in which you're lucky. Yeah, that's what my final thought is, gratitude, to be grateful, and to not let the negatives just wash up across you. And in general, from the journey as well, I'm a stronger person, for sure. Each trial I've gone through has just like added another layer of skin, I guess, made me tougher. That which does not kill you only makes you stronger. It's another cliche that's true, though. 
 
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Maya found it was essential to set aside time to be reflective and really focus on healing.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I was able to take time off from work and really rest in solitude. You know, spend enormous amount of time just processing emotion, you know, self-evaluating, self-reflection and do just tremendous amounts of internal work and I do think it’s work and I don’t think its commonly recognized as such and I think it’s work that not only benefits me but I think it benefits everyone around me and I think it benefits my career to be able to take that time.
A number of people described very concrete steps they took to change their circumstances and start the healing process. For some, this meant getting out of abusive relationships or toxic home environments. For others, it meant becoming proactive about things that are known to improve depression such as a good diet, regular exercise, ample sleep, and lowered stress. Many people talked about finding and concentrating on things that bring them peace or joy, such as music, being outdoors, art, holy books, affirmations, pets, or gardening.
 

Violet found it was necessary to make many changes in her life to start on the path to healing.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 22
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I essentially had to over haul my entire life because everything that I was doing was bringing me down, all of it was negative, there wasn’t you know very little in my life that wasn’t contributing to my depression. You know and it, when you’re in it you don’t think that way, for me anyway, I never thought, I’m doing this you know to myself but really so many of my choices were keeping me there. I was not you know maybe it started some people say it’s genetic some people say it’s hormones, I don’t know but my, my life choices were making it harder for me, you know it was just making it worse. The over haul of my life, it was certainly very hard there were moments where my depression felt worse. It felt like am I doing the right thing it was, my moments of self-doubt were very low, you know I felt, I felt like I must certainly be doing the wrong thing I must you know, I’m crazy for doing this for deciding to change my whole life in a month you know deciding to think I was ever going to get away from it. I thought there was a period of time when I said to myself “no matter what I do I’m always going to feel like this,” and that was a very low feeling thinking that. But I did start to feel better I kept on it and I did start to feel better…
 

Leaving the place where her depression began reminded Sierra Rose that painful circumstances can in fact be changed.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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Once I moved out of my mom’s house, everything, doors opened up, everything opened up. There are valleys in front of us and we just have to seize them. We have to realize that, yeah you may have come from a really crappy background, our parents may not have cared or may have been alcoholics or drug addicts or abusive or not there at all or maybe they cared too much and suffocated you, but once you were out of that, the world literally is at your feet. And that was, oh my god if I had known how the world was at my feet when I was 16 and tried to kill myself, I would not have tried. I would have known that this is temporary, everything is temporary.
 
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For Jason, getting away from a stressful setting was an important for strategy for breaking the grip of severe depression.

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 22
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First of all, I wanted to do something that would make me happy. So I feel like, being in school was contributing to the stress and like, the low point. So I wanted to get off campus, because I feel like being in an environment where you’re unhappy and that causes you to be unhappy. One of, you know, escape the bubble for a while. I decided to go off campus and also just like, say, eat a good meal. I think that helped. So that was when I finally decided to go out. It wasn’t to hang out with my friends, or like, to go to the spots I usually go. It was actually to go off campus and have some alone time, away from like, the bubble that was very much, very suffocating.
Some people said that healing can’t happen for them until they come to terms with difficult parts of their past. Marty said he wants to get back in touch with his family, and resume favorite activities such as welding. Several people described needing to “make amends” with loved ones, friends or acquaintances, or needing to re-frame those past relationships.
 

For Teddy, part of healing was letting people who had hurt him know how sensitive he is.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 16
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So I’d honestly have to say the last step of releasing my depression, I wrote a Facebook status saying to all of the people who have hurt me and have done something to damage me. I told them [coughed] that they should have been better things for you to do than to hurt me. You may have not intended it but you knew I was a sensitive person so just know you’ve messed up on having a really good friend.

And what really surprised me was that the people who’ve like, I’ve never talked to but were in the band with me called me on the phone and liked my status saying, “You really took a huge step by publicly announcing that you’re not going to pretty much handle all of this crap anymore.” 
Accepting yourself and your life

Many people said learning to “finally be myself” was a key part of healing. In some cases, this meant no longer fighting who they know themselves to be with respect to sexuality, gender, or personality.
 

Finally coming out as transgender allowed Jackson to begin moving past depression.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I feel like for a lot of people who come out as trans, it's always a opposite. Like, you know, they lose their families or communities. They lose that support. They're depressed or they try to kill themselves. And I have had the exact opposite experience I think because like, I don't-- I don't know, I've always felt that burden and then I also don't really have a secure family structure that I am influenced by or that I depend on or feel a part of. And so, yeah, and so I felt like wow, I can actually come into my own with no pressure and I can finally-- I can finally be myself without, I don't know being attacked by those that I care about. I can choose. I can choose to live a life I want to live now. And, yeah, and so I-- I feel like coming out as trans like has helped solidify that-- that belief of like I can make choices and I can-- I can change if I want or not…
For many people, overcoming self-blame was one of the hardest hurdles. As Shayne put it, paraphrasing what many people said, it is important to realize that depression is “most definitely not your fault.” Crystal has been learning to “listen to” her depression, searching for positive aspects of herself within it instead of regarding it as something entirely negative. Some people also spoke about the need to stop blaming others, such as parents and caregivers.
 

It’s critical, Ryan notes, to find a way to stop blaming yourself for depression.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
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So you just have to recognize that and that while you should support, I mean seek people who support you, ya know you shouldn’t, I guess you shouldn’t be super negative to them. Or make it their fault, cause it’s not anybody’s fault, not even your own… 

The last thing I said, it’s not your fault.

I think I was just really blaming myself and doubting myself for feeling the way that I was. And so once you move past that it just really, it just really opens doors. 
 

For Maya, living with depression means accepting that her capacity for life activities will be somewhat limited.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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Are you familiar with the spoon theory of chronic illness? I think it applies to mental health very well. So there’s this young woman and she’s trying to explain to her friend what it was like to live with chronic illness and I think she had something like lupus and then she was in a cafeteria and she was like, “Alright spoons, alright ten spoons.” She was like, “I only have so many spoons each day.” She was like, “I want you to hold these spoons and then try and get through your day because everything you chose to do will cost you a spoon.” So, you know, you’re getting ready for school, you know what I mean, you’re getting ready for class that’s going to cost you one spoon. And then you go to your classes and that’s going to cost you two more spoons. And now it’s lunch time and so you can either skip lunch and, you know, get whatever this, you know, paper or whatever done but that’s going to cost you three spoons or you can eat lunch and that period of time will only cost you one spoon. You know what I mean, going out to coffee with a friend, that’s another spoon. You know what I mean, by the time you get to noon you’ve already used more than half of your spoons. And so sometimes you have to choose, am I going to do the dishes or am I going to get some work done, you know what I mean. It’s a lot of, “Am I going to get out of bed and go see my friends this evening, even though I know I’ll start with fewer spoons tomorrow”. So it’s just being aware that sometimes when it comes to your own capacity, it’s kind of this zero sum gain and that you don’t have as many spoons to spend as everyone else.
 
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For Julia, getting past blame is an essential part of healing.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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…for whatever reason you didn’t get your needs met and it’s nothing that you did wrong. You know maybe if it was the person’s caregivers, you know maybe they did the best they could with what they knew and it still sucks [laughs]. 
Aspects of healing

The path towards healing is not the same for everyone. For some, it includes being able to effectively connect to others: being “called for advice,” or being able to stop detaching from emotional situations. Others begin healing by taking a risk: Jackson went to another country where he was able to make strong connections with people. Kate measures healing by “my functionality and my productivity.” Several people spoke about needing to be the one in control of their own life and future.
 

For Teri, feeling connected at work was a first step in reducing the hold depression had on her life.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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It just started to go, it just it was just gone, like I didn’t really I’m not really sure how this shift happened but I didn’t have to fake it anymore. So, I’m thinking back to like how I was at work at that point, but I, once I began to start feeling better about myself, I felt better about my abilities to do my work and so I became more excited to go there and be around people and do a good job and get promoted and I did like from there I started to do better and, so I see that. I look back and I see reconnections with family members…
 
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Jeremy accepts that he faces more suffering, but holds on to a bright side of life.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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I kind of think of stuff like everything is a balance in life so when something really bad happened then something really good’s gonna happen. Something good’s happened then something bad’s gonna happen. So, that bad thing happened, had me, had me pretty depressed for, for a while. I’m getting, I’m getting over that and now I’m, now I’m that spiritual transition, I’m doin’ a lot better now and things are looking’ on up and I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna keep on suffering for a while. Cause I’ve been, I’ve been in some dark places in my head like, not like, not like I’ll be like in the streets or anything. It’s just I’ve been in some dark places, just myself. So it’s, and after being in that it’s just like I can enjoy, it’s, after being that and understanding that I can avoid it and enjoy life.

The life I’ve been missing out on cause being depressed and stuff…
Healing as a process

A few people referred to their depression as “cured” or to themselves as “fully recovered.” The most consistent thing most people said about healing from depression, however, is that it is a process -- one characterized by cycles of feeling better and worse, rather than by a linear path from sickness to health. As one person put it, “it’s always going to be the rollercoaster ride throughout your life.” Kate described depression as a difficult friend you “don't really want to get rid of.” Others talked about coming to terms with the identity of being a depressed person; knowing you always “could be back there” even after feeling healed; or realizing that help of certain kinds might always be necessary.
 

Kate accepts that depression will sometimes make it harder to live her life.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 12
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I'm not trying to get rid of it any longer. I simply view it as an aspect of myself that I need to be aware of and work with. I kind of view depression like the weather. If it rains, I can't really be upset about it. I simply have to wear a coat. And I have to be prepared for where my depression takes me sometimes. And I have to just understand that I need to give myself a break sometimes. But it's not something that I think can be solved or cured. It's just my perspective in life sometimes.
 
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Sierra Rose acknowledges that recovery is a constant effort – and seeks friends who are equally committed to healing and who can help her stay on this path.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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The thing for me with recovery is you can’t beat yourself up for the relapses as long as you realize, “It was a relapse, I need to get back up,” And you know as Winnie the Pooh says, “Try, try again,” in his little books. You just have to get back up and back in recovery and you have to surround yourself with positiveness everywhere, you have to positive affirmations and a positive support system and positive friends, you can’t be sitting there with, I cannot be friends with somebody who is not willing to at least look at their life and re-evaluate things. If you are not willing to look at your life and admit that you have made mistakes and that you need help and that you need to be in recovery I can’t be friends with you because I can’t have that in my life. It’s a struggle for me to continue in recovery every day. 
 
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For Brendan, part of healing is learning to pace himself through the cycles of up and down.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 15
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What I've been working on a lot recently is getting a sense of like sort of like my cycles because, you know, hormone cycles and just like when does depression affect me and what ways? I am sort of trying to like-- I would-- I'm historically the sort of person who like when things are good, I will just like one charge full steam ahead to get shit done and then when depression happens, I just lay there and don't really do anything. And what I'm trying to learn is exhausting myself less when things are good so that it doesn't eventually cave in and like basically learning to as I'm kind of call it riding the cycle. Make it something that I work around and, you know, just make work rather than something that occasionally comes in and fucks the shit up.
See also ‘Depression and strategies for everyday life’, ‘Depression, bias, and disadvantage’, and ’Holistic and integrative approaches to depression’.
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