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


Age at interview: 18
Age at diagnosis: 14

Brief outline: Mara (age 18) was self-harming from a very young age and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at age 14. Therapy and support from her father and friends helped in high school. In college she started taking medication and studying Buddhism.

Background: Mara is a student at a large university. She lives in a dorm room on campus. She is Vietnamese and White.

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Mara, now a freshman in college, was diagnosed at age 14 with depression and anxiety after an emergency room episode of self-harming. Her parents immediately sought help for her. Through high school Mara saw a variety of therapists. Mara said it was really interesting to get these different opinions because it led her to struggle to discover her “own personal philosophy”. Regular therapy, in particular for self-harm and anxiety, was “really, really helpful”, because at that age you feel like nobody, including parents, will listen to you about feelings of “isolation and desperation”. 

In addition to therapy, Mara values her great “support group”. Her dad, as her number one advocate, “was invaluable” because her, like a circle of her close friends, they were willing to say “I have no idea what, where this is coming from... but I really want to be here to support you through whatever you’re going through.” Since coming to college Mara has also been practicing Diamond Way Buddhism and has started to take anti-anxiety medication, which she says in conjunction with other forms of therapy, “has played an enormous role in helping me reteach myself how to cope without needing self-injury”.

Mara highlights three ways in which depression is a “weird dualism”. First, with regards to low self-esteem, “It’s been weird compensating between …feelings of worthlessness and then the inherent knowledge that you are valuable, you do mean something”. Second, she has “pendulated” between “having an emotional mind and a logical mind. The emotional mind wants you to isolate yourself, and [the] logical mind tells you by creating these relationships and maintaining them that you have a better chance. …Third, Mara notes the tension of perceiving depression as and integral part of you or something separate, “It’s a really dangerous road to go down when you say I, not only I have depression, …but I am depression”. She says the “first line of defense is to know where your self starts and where you stop, and where your depression is, because that way it’s not a part of you”.

Mara says depression is “totally a constant struggle” and that “it’s your job to fight it no matter how hard it is”. Taking control and striving for autonomy are critical. She notes, “Self-injury was about control”. But “if you can exercise and gain control over your body, that’s another amazing thing”. Academics, she says is another way to gain autonomy, “an awesome SAT and great grades, then nobody can tell you where your limitations are”.


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