a teen, Audrey reached first for her shield for protection. She was
protecting those around her from suspecting she was anything other than
the “happy go lucky” girl they had always known and loved.
And she was protecting herself. Not from the depression
that set in when she was in high school, but from the risk that being
depressed — and being known to be depressed — would cause her to be a
disappointment to her community.
Then Audrey reached for the sword. Cutting is a coping mechanism that may seem
counterintuitive for anyone, least of all “smiley, happy, personable”
Audrey. But self-harm affects millions of Americans, and 90% of people
who develop a habit of deliberately injuring themselves begin as
teenagers or earlier.
As Audrey describes it, “At that time, there were many different angles, like family, school, myself. I
didn’t want anyone to know anything was wrong with me. You feel like
you’re to blame for most of the bad things that are happening in your
life. In the end, how can you not take it out on yourself?”
was “an easy way out” for Audrey when something triggered her anxiety
— a simple, momentary relief from the complex emotional pain she was
experiencing. And a compelling alternative to lowering her shield.
Eventually, she had
the courage to reach out to her boyfriend. Like a warrior, she made
that difficult decision out of an external concern for others — “I am
hurting people around me” — rather than an initial interest in
addressing her own individual and internal needs.
got her family involved and she was able to pursue the treatment she
needed, disabused of the notion that she had to sacrifice her own health
and happiness to protect others from her depression.
At first, Audrey saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist. For
many of the 20% of teens living with a mental health condition, therapy
allows them to tell their stories, put their difficult experiences into
words, and learn important coping skills.
With treatment and with time, Audrey has found that the song
is mightier than the sword. At moments when she feels anxious or
depressed and doesn’t have someone to talk it out with, she immerses
herself in music. Sitting still and focusing her emotional energy on that song keeps her from spiraling.
Before she sought
help, Audrey had a specific narrative in her head: that vulnerability
was weakness, that she was on her own, that she had to put on a brave
face or her suffering would somehow betray the very people who cared
Now she knows better:
was able to stop cutting and to learn my triggers to know it’s not my
fault. And when I do feel all this rush of emotion, even though I know
it’s an easy way out, if I just fight through it, then I feel like an
even bigger warrior after.”
Large-scale disasters, whether traumatic, natural or environmental are almost always accompanied by increases in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a broad range of other mental and behavioral disorders