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Below the Surface: A Mom’s Revelation About Teen Depression

Would you know if your teenager was struggling with depression? J&J mom Nancy shares how she learned that her daughter Sarah, who was bright and happy on the outside, was hurting on the inside.
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It was a day I’ll never forget. Returning home from her after school activities, my bright, energetic 16 year-old daughter Sarah retreated to her room and crawled into bed. She remained there for three days, crying and curled up in a fetal position. Her friends started showing up at our house. I realized then that Sarah was in trouble.

Leading up to that October day, I’d missed the signs that lurked just below the surface. Sarah had earned A’s in even her challenging courses. She had great friends surrounding her. She was active in marching band, theatre, and a robotics team. When her grades began falling and she wasn’t her spirited self, I thought it was just a phase. I told myself she was worn down by all her activities and the demands of school.

I’m thankful that Sarah has some amazing friends, with whom I’d already established relationships. I reached out to one of them, and she let me know everything that my daughter was sharing with her. I learned that Sarah was in despair, telling her friends she could no longer tolerate her life. She thought her options came down to sleeping or not being alive.

That piece of news hit me hard. And it baffled me. Sarah and I were close. She was also close with her two sisters, who loved her dearly. She was so smart, talented, healthy, and athletic. She had everything to look forward to in life.

Even though I was struggling to make sense of our situation, I knew I had to admit Sarah to a behavioral health hospital. The next few weeks were gut-wrenching, as she—and I—endured her absence from our home, the uncertain path toward determining a diagnosis, and the first days of an intense therapy and medical protocol that continues today.

Eventually, Sarah was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. After being stabilized, she was released and is making progress. As a family, we are all learning to appreciate the challenges that Sarah and so many other people like her face.

Before that October day, I had naively assumed that all struggling adolescents fit a type: they wore black clothing, acted with rudeness and disrespect, failed to follow rules, , lacked ambition, and had a limited set of friends. What I learned is that mental illness does not have a profile. As parents, we need to educate ourselves. My daughter’s high achieving personality hid the real story. Behaviors that I thought I could chalk up to typical teen experiences were actually red flags.

Not doing well at school may mean so much more than an increasingly difficult homework load.

Being tired and spending more time in bed may have nothing to do with the pace of your teen’s activities.

Before that painful October experience, I thought I couldn’t be prouder of Sarah. Now, I’m simply in awe of her strength and resilience. I also realize that regardless of the close relationship you may have with your child, the source of their struggles may not be obvious.

Sarah’s path toward mental health will undoubtedly include some bumps in the road, but as a family, we are all better people because of the ordeal. I’m grateful that she is doing well and making progress.

To learn more about depression, watch our Healthy Minds video series.

Nancy has been fortunate enough to work for Johnson & Johnson for the past 28 years. In her current role, she serves as a Strategic Account Manager for J&J Health & Wellness Solutions. Her favorite people in the entire world are her daughters: Katie (19), Sarah (16) and Emily (12).

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