The thirteen-year-old girl looked me dead in the eye, no expression on her face while stating, “I’m ugly. I’m stupid. I hate myself. I want to die.”
Every part of me wanted to leap across the table that separated her from me, her child psychiatrist, and her social worker, her treatment team during her inpatient adolescent psychiatry visit, to hug and combat her overwhelmingly negative self-talk with positive affirmations. But of course, I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I was amazed by how many times this similar story of an adolescent being brought from school with suicidal ideations or self-injurious behavior, most commonly cutting their arms, presented itself over my three weeks on my inpatient adolescent psychiatry portion of my psychiatry clerkship. They were stressed at school and home alike. Sometimes there was a tragic trauma history, and other times (or sometimes simultaneously) there were questionable family situations that, when divulged, had you making calls to Child Protective Services the minute you located a phone.
At thirteen (or any age, really), no one should have to battle demons like severe depression and suicidal thoughts, yet we saw it every day.
But the amazing thing with these young patients was their rapid rate of recovery. With the help of medication, group therapy, family therapy, and individual therapy, more often than not, within a few days, these depressed teenagers looked and felt more like normal, happy (although sometimes still angsty!) teenagers. The resilience and willingness to try to get better in this adolescent population was something I saw much less of on the adult psychiatry unit but makes a huge difference in the recovery process for these depressed teenagers.