By Jan Hittelman

Last month’s column focused on teen depression. A reader whose son has suffered from depression most of his life took exception to the following statement: “The good news is that depression is highly treatable. Talk therapy, medication or a combination of the two has been shown to be highly effective.” Her story poignantly depicts the challenge that many families experience in trying to obtain effective treatment.

Initially she “noticed he was having more and more of a problem with depression that would not “lift”, and it had gotten so bad I really feared that my beautiful, kind, shy, and intelligent son would kill himself”.

At first she tried to utilize her health insurance. Her son was initially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and placed on stimulant medication. His depression worsened. Subsequently he was switched to a different medication, but indicated that her son “felt like a zombie.” She added, “Their “talk therapy” sessions were 20 minutes long and consisted just of drug monitoring, no cognitive behavior therapy, which is the most effective therapy for depression”.

She subsequently brought him to a licensed psychotherapist and noted some improvement, but “after another six months, my son no longer wanted to go because he felt “nothing was getting any better… During this time, my son had flunked out of college.” He subsequently attended Front Range Community College and his mom notes that “Being held accountable by an entity who NOTICED him (at FRCC) and also having a very good advisor there, who also noticed him and leveled with him, has helped. Time has helped. Getting a job and moving away from home has helped him more than anything… He is now doing better and has learned a lot of skills and lessons along the way.”

She sums up her son’s experience as follows: “Drugs have never helped my son except to briefly make him feel slightly disoriented. And “talk therapy” is something apparently only those with money receive”.

I applaud this challenged mom for her ongoing efforts to assist her son. While their journey has been challenging, I wonder how much more challenging it would have been if his depression went unnoticed. This is often the case, as children and adolescents who are depressed can present with irritability instead of a sad mood. One must also wonder how her son would have responded to a more effective treatment strategy. Finally, there is a powerful message as to the importance of caring individuals noticing him and putting effort into assisting him at his school.

We can learn a lot from this parent’s story. While dealing with depression can certainly be a great struggle, we must do everything that we can to try and address it. It is also clear that as a community we must make sure that resources exist to provide effective treatment for our family, friends and neighbors regardless of their ability to pay. Finally and perhaps most importantly, we each need to care enough to notice and let those in pain know that we care.