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

Whitney

Female
Age at interview: 29
Age at diagnosis: 9

Brief outline: Whitney, 29, was diagnosed at age 9, and later with bi-polar disorder. Family and school issues, suicide attempts, and drug use led to prison, where she got treatment. She lost custody of her daughter and has no job. Despite treatments, she is depressed.

Background: Whitney is unemployed and is staying with her father who has custody of her 9-year old daughter. She is White.

Audio & video

Whitney was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed Prozac when she was 9 years old. She says, “My family did not accept that I needed medication to be, quote, normal,” and her dad “dumped it down the drain”. Depression she says “tore my family apart”. Her grandmother was the only family member who gave her love and affection. Depression worsened in her teen years; she also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At age 15 Whitney tried to commit suicide and was committed to a juvenile mental health hospital where she says, “I felt I was being punished”. At about that time she transferred to an affluent high school where kids had money for “high end drugs like cocaine and heroin”. Whitney got in with “wrong crowd” and she “made bad decisions” that would follow her for many years. She said drugs and alcohol made her feel normal and happy if “not all the time”. Reflecting back, she was self-medicating. Getting pregnant at age 19 resulted in a forced marriage; her daughter was born when she was 20. Soon thereafter Whitney and her now ex-husband got into “a lot of trouble with the law” for drug use. Whitney’s father applied for and was granted “temporary guardianship” of her baby girl. Whitney has still not regained custody.

Two years later, at age 22, Whitney “got locked up” for drugs. She was in a maximum-security prison for women that had a dual diagnosis treatment program. “Believe it or not”, Whitney says, “I’m glad they sent me there. “It saved my life”. She was given several medications including Lithium, which helped “tremendously with managing my bipolar” and “curb my addiction”. The program had a social worker, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and used cognitive behavioral therapy. Whitney says, “I learned a lot about myself through that program and ways to cope effectively and stay away from drugs and alcohol upon my release”. Her treatment was punctuated with significant loss. “I lost my boyfriend who was accidentally given too much methadone at the methadone clinic” and she says “I couldn’t go to the funeral, so that sent me into another spiral downward”. Whitney’s best friend fell out of the program for using and then had four mini strokes and died. “It was super hard on all of us. …But I just kept going”. 

Whitney no longer uses drugs. But she says, “I feel like my whole world is going to collapse into nothing”. For 20 years she has “tried all sorts of medication” to name a few, Prozac, Celexa, and Abilify, “nothing has really seemed to help”. She says counseling through the County health services have gotten worse since she started using them, because therapists see so many people. She has been unable to get and keep a job. Having “a record with the law” makes it “hard to get jobs”, she says, “I’m on the bottom of the list of people that they look at”. She needs an income to regain custody of her daughter who is now 9 years old. She says, “I just wanna be a mom and I wanna be normal like everybody else”.

Whitney does not “want anybody to have the life I’ve had. I didn’t go on one path, I went straight, like, through the bushes. I made things super hard.” So despite the stigma attached to depression, she says, “don’t be ashamed of coming forward and getting help for it. For herself she sees that depression is a “consistent journey that will, will probably never end”. She acknowledges while it is frustrating, “it’s just the way I am and it’s something I have to deal with”. 

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