National Alliance on Mental Illness Porter County, 764-2958 or visit www.namiporterco.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness Lake County, 886-4335 or 887-0629
Regional Mental Health Center, 736-7200 or (888) 398-7050, or visit www.regionalmentalhealth.org.
Porter-Starke Services Inc. in Valparaiso, 531-3500
Updated: December 23, 2013 1:23PM
Ryan Dempsay always seemed to feel tired, irritable and unhappy with her self-image, nothing too uncommon for a teenager. At times she also felt an intense, heavy sadness, even when her life was going well.
“I just excused it as teenage drama,” the 16-year-old Chesterton High School student told me.
Last year at about this time she finally learned a word that defined and explained her gloomy feelings: Depression.
“I have struggled with depression for many years now,” she said candidly.
Depression is a serious illness for adults, but teenage depression can have fatal outcomes. It’s the leading cause of suicide, the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Yet two thirds of people with depression go through life untreated.
“Some pretty scary statistics, right?” Dempsay said. “Well, I’m part of those statistics and I’m not alone. I have so many friends and family members who have suffered from some form of depression, whether it’s merely situational or clinical.”
Dempsay is coming forward to share her story in an attempt to assist others suffering similar symptoms, often in painful silence and especially as the holidays approach. We’re supposed to feel cheery, but depression has a way of jabbing a dull knife into such seasonal joy.
To help spread awareness about treatment options, Dempsay is taking part in a “Storytellers” campaign through a nonprofit organization called To Write Love On Her Arms. (For more info, visit http://twloha.com/storytellers.)
The two-month, fundraising Storytellers campaign is an initiative for high school students to start a conversation about mental health while offering resources in their community.
“The mission is to break the silence on these issues and educate people,” Dempsay said. “All funds raised go completely to the research and treatment for people who suffer from mental health issues.”
Dempsay has an online account for donations — found at www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=266426 — and also is selling wristbands for $5 during her campaign, which ends Dec. 15.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity to educate my community and get involved in a cause I’m so passionate about,” she told me.
Dempsay was clinically diagnosed with depression last year, after struggling with self-injury for the past year. She’s currently taking medication and has experienced a noticeable upgrade in her mental health.
“I’ve come a long way and have been able to help others, as well as myself, in the process,” she said.
Her school grades are good, and she’s involved in extracurricular activities as well as constructive hobbies such as artwork and poetry. At her age, I was more interested in my depressing grades and lackluster social life than in helping others with depression.
“People need to understand that those who struggle with these illnesses aren’t crazy, we just have to do a little extra to feel normal,” she said.
Feeling normal — is there anything more desperately appealing for a teenager in high school?
Battling the quiet, lonely disease of depression can be like weathering relentless waves crashing against an eroding beach. Or like walking around with a constant toothache. This is what I’ve been told by sufferers through the years.
I hear this more often around Thanksgiving, which gives us time to pause and reflect on our lives, our so-called happiness and our expectations of how we are supposed to feel.
What better time than now to readdress this sensitive, still-stigmatized topic while reminding people they are not alone. More importantly, that help is out there.
Clinical depression is a mood state that goes well beyond feeling blue or sad, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Porter County. It’s a lifelong medical illness that affects your thoughts, feelings, behavior and overall health.
Such clinical depression affects 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans, though numbers are unclear because it’s still considered a shameful condition. So imagine just how shameful this must feel to teenagers who already are battling their hormones, emotions and fear of not fitting in.
They’re already swimming in what seems like a shark-infested fishbowl, when drowning appears to be a welcomed reprieve from depression, self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
“The struggle to get me the help and treatment I needed was exhausting,” Dempsay said. “We had to jump through hoops to find something relatively helpful.”
“All you ever see in the news are people who struggle with mental illness or self-mutilation after it’s too late, after something bad happened. But my campaign is proactive.”
In my line of work, storytelling is at the heart of my writing, so I credit Dempsay for being a storyteller whose firsthand advice is simple but crucial: “Talk to someone. Always, always open up to someone, anyone.”
On today’s special Casual Fridays show, we’re celebrating our two-year anniversary by sharing the best of this past year. Tune in at noon (or at 11 p.m.) at 89.1-FM, streaming online at http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/local-programs/casual-fridays/ .