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


Age at interview: 21
Age at diagnosis: 15

Brief outline: Brendan, age 21, has abusive alcoholic parents. He was diagnosed at age 15 and has had suicidal thoughts. Therapy helps; medication led to a major depressive episode. His high IQ landed him in a good college to study music and focus on social justice.

Background: Brendan has three jobs and is a fulltime college student and musician. He lives in an apartment with a roommate. Ethnic background is White.

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Brendan was diagnosed with depression at age 15. The story leading to that diagnosis included being abused by an abusive alcoholic mother and stepfather, witnessing his mother being abused, and being bullied at school from a young age. As a “scrawny, nerdy kid” with no friends and a keen sense of fairness, he developed anger issues early on and had his first suicidal depressive episode at age 10. His high IQ and mother’s persistence landed him in a school for gifted students, where he made friends for the first time. A thwarted love relationship precipitated self-harming and his first major depressive episode. Therapy in high school and college has been helpful. His first and only use of antidepressants led to his second major depressive episode, which caused him to retreat to bed, miss class and eventually take a medical leave of absence from college.

Making music has also been therapeutic. In high school Brendan and friends had a band, wrote original pieces and performed locally with some notoriety. Getting “into a really awesome college” has allowed Brendan to continue to develop as a musician. Depression and social injustice are recurrent themes in his music—with an optimistic tone that “this is temporary and something's better coming from it”.

Brendan says that he is enjoying a “victory lap” after returning to college after his medical leave. He is learning to ride the depression cycle—refraining from exhausting himself in the good times to avoid caving in. 

Brendan describes depression as persistent “multifaceted” challenge “that's going to keep on finding its way back to your doorstep”. But on the positive side is that depression “doesn't have to be where your story ends”. 


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