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


Age at interview: 20
Age at diagnosis: 15

Brief outline: Crystal’s depression began in childhood. Her parents were reluctant to seek services, but she eventually got professional help through the school system. She has found therapy and the support of good friends helpful, though still struggles with depression. She does not take medication.

Background: Crystal is an African American college student. She works campus jobs during the year and internships in the summers.

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Crystal grew up in a low-income household. Abuse was part of her family’s home dynamic, as was the formation of some strong family bonds which remain central to her life’s purpose. Crystal’s depression began during early middle school when things began to feel “very blank” in her life. She also felt unfocused and unable to get excited about anything the way people around her could. 

Crystal first began getting professional help for her depression after a couple of suicide attempts in high school. Her parents were not in favor of bringing in “outside resources”, but her school required that a therapist get involved. However, her family’s mixed feelings about getting help and limited financial resources combined to make that first effort unsuccessful. Therapy she got later, through the health service at her college, has been much more helpful.

Throughout high school and into college, Crystal has used hard work as a distraction from her depression, and as a way to stay focused on her longer-term goal of helping her family and being a role model for her sister. She excels at academic studies of all kinds. She engages in multiple campus activities at her university, volunteers for community organizations, and works at internships during the summer. Her depression continues to exist alongside this highly successful external life, leading her to feel like she has to “navigate two personalities.” During times of transition she often tries to “start all over” and is optimistic that she can overcome negative thought patterns, but finds that depression and thoughts of suicide return. She believes a focused effort to address her depression, perhaps in a hospital setting, might be useful but does not feel the right time for that process has yet arrived. 

Friends, roommates and intimate partners are key supports for Crystal. She is comfortable with her bi-sexuality, and clear with romantic partners about what she can and cannot commit to at this stage in her life. On-going behavioral therapy has been helpful for generating short-term solutions for daily struggles, as have specific tools like journaling or setting discrete goals. She reminds other young adults that “time is a really great resource in dealing with depression,” so don’t be afraid to realize that “life is going to be slower for you, you are going to operate at a different pace and that’s completely ok.” She also believes it would be helpful to teach children in school about mental health issues so that there is a basic shared understanding and eventually more acceptance and compassion in society at large. 


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