“Dad, I’m too depressed to go to class.”
This is a phone call Don never expected to receive from his son, Liam. How could Liam, who was always a happy go lucky child, be depressed?
Don responds, “I don’t understand. What happened?”
“It feels like everything has gone wrong this semester. I was seeing a girl and I wanted to get serious, but she decided to go out with my roommate instead. I was so upset I failed an exam. Now I could fail the whole class. Last week I decided to just give up and get into bed. With only a month and a half left in the semester, I don’t know what to do.”
Don makes a three-hour drive to see Liam, and the next day this father and son come to my office. Liam is as depressed as anyone I have seen. He is unshaven, speaks slowly and softly, does not make eye contact, and admits that he has considered suicide. I am so concerned about him that I recommend he enter the hospital.
Don has different ideas. “I can stay with Liam and make sure he is safe. I have the kind of job where I can work remotely. If you can start him on medication now, I’ll provide support while he finishes his classes this semester. If he feels worse, then we can consider the hospital.” Liam agrees to try medication and also see a therapist. I write a letter to the campus disability resource center so they can work with Liam’s professors to get him caught up in school.
We walk a tightrope with Liam over the next three weeks. He is able to get work done, but continues to feel depressed. His suicidal thoughts are less frequent but are still present. I increase his antidepressant medication and hope the decision to keep Liam out of the hospital was the right one.
A few weeks later, Liam turns the corner. Smiling and making eye contact, he says he will pass his classes, and looks forward to spending winter break with his family. He is grateful his father came to help. I am grateful, too
It was fortunate that Liam felt comfortable reaching out to his father, but many students will not tell their parents if they are feeling down. They want to appear strong and independent to their friends and family, wearing a mask of happiness when they are hurting inside. They suffer in silence while their depression goes untreated, with harmful results. Failing grades. Poor self-care. Self-destructive behaviors. Depression, in fact, is the leading mental health disorder identified in those who commit suicide. Timely treatment for depression can be a matter of life and death.