Depression: What does it look like? A case study

By Mary Ellen Wierschem, Licenced Clinical Social Worker

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that health professionals use to diagnose depression contends that different types of depression have these characteristics in common:  feelings of sadness, emptiness and irritability, which affect a person physically and mentally. 

Angela was 14 year old and struggled with peer relationships with girls – the strain of loyalties over friends and over attention from boys, her emerging sexuality, experimentation with marijuana and other drugs, school grades and attendance, all of which influenced her drive for independence from her mother.

Angela could not have told you that in the background, intensifying all of the normal issues of growing through this stage of life, was a deeply felt loss and anger at the abandonment of the family by her father.   And her mother didn’t realize how this loss made her own struggles as Angela’s parent so much more difficult.

To make the situation worse, Angela’s father remarried and had two daughters with his new wife.  Their financial circumstances couldn’t have been more dissimilar; while Angela was given a meager allowance in a household struggling to keep food on the table, her half-sisters lived in luxury she had never known.

Counseling could have helped, but Angela’s mother was between a rock and a hard place; her employer wasn’t receptive to non-emergency work absences.  So mother and daughter battled over everything, never knowing there was an issue so large, so painful, that it affected every interaction.  Angela’s father loss included bitter feelings of resentment, rejection, abandonment, jealousy, deprivation and injustice.  And those feelings surfaced as arguments over curfew, boys, sleep-overs, trust, school grades, rudeness ….  Two words sum it up:  Angela seemed depressed and rebellious.

Depression hurts in so many ways, but sometimes, if we only knew the source of the loss that underlies it, we could move on to some degree of healing.  The way to get there is to talk, and often to find that the talking deepens and gradually unearths the painful injury that refuses, unacknowledged, to diminish.   When injury is brought to the light, pain dissipates.  Having a trusted and insightful family member, friend or professional shine the light with you can help to set you free.