Why My Teen Daughter And I Take The Same Antidepressant

by Jessica Hoefer-Land
A woman sitting with her teen daughter on the couch, holding her head with one hand, a cup of coffee...

In addition to owning the same pair of shoes, my 16-year-old daughter and I also take the same antidepressant.

When I was in my 30’s after giving birth to my son, I struggled with postpartum depression. With a newborn struggling to nurse and a daughter who turned two the same week my son was born, I was left feeling an immense amount of despair and hopelessness trying to cope. I forged ahead but my feelings of inadequacy ran deep. Many tears ensued and it was beginning to alter my ability to effectively parent. At the advice of my physician, I sought some therapy in order to try and right myself.

While that provided some affirmation that I wasn’t totally bonkers, talk therapy helped considerably but still left me lacking. It was at that time my therapist referred me to a prescriber — and long story long, I began a low dose of antidepressants to help combat my chemical imbalance and boost my serotonin levels.

Many years earlier as a child I battled similar symptoms and then in high school and college, as well. My anger was fierce, volatile and, at times, out of control. My cynicism and judgment of others was ugly. I chalked it up to stress and a dysfunctional home life. I’m sure that was a major contributor but there was more to it than circumstances. I believe my postpartum depression was the catalyst in revealing what had been simmering untreated for all that time.

When I finally agreed to start an antidepressant, I thought it would be temporary. Throughout the years when I attempted to titrate off, however, my fear, anxiety, tears and angry outbursts became my normal and it was difficult to handle everyday life. I would find myself curled up in a sobbing mess on the couch. Every tiny setback threw me over the edge in terms of handling stressful situations. As therapy went on, a more conclusive diagnosis was reached, allowing the opportunity to work in specific areas of my life. We found a medication that would help navigate my life in a more healthful manner.

Because of my diagnosis, I was on high alert, observing my kids in order to make sure they were handling the pressures of high school and life in general. I was told by my physician that depression could be tied to genetics, so I was concerned. When my 16-year-old daughter started showing signs of anxiety, I watched closely. Her symptoms mimicked mine in some ways and others, not. Nevertheless, my mother heart felt her distress keenly.

Mornings began finding my daughter crying and panic attacks began to set in as the pressure to achieve in school mounted. Some mornings she couldn’t get out of bed. She began making comments about wishing she could die. Her grades started to slip and attendance at school began to wane. She was sullen, dark and her face showed pain. She had no friends. It appeared school was giving her the greatest amount of stress because on weekends we would see glimpses of the girl she really was, engaging and happy.

But there were a lot of external factors surrounding her that contributed to her state of despair. Social media and the news were some of them. She would cry over the possibility of a nuclear attack from North Korea because the first thing she did when she woke up each morning was check the news app on her phone. She would break out in tears any time she heard of a earthquake near where we live on the West Coast. She stressed over volcanoes exploding.

Instagram and Snapchat were painting an unrealistic picture of people who were hiding behind a curtain of perfection. From the surface, everyone was thin, gorgeous and had a beautiful life unstained by adversity. My daughter had acne and hair she found hard to manage. She was real.

Nothing pains you quite like the pain of your child. As her mother, I felt it to the core. I distinctly remembered my similar battles and the feeling of worthlessness that sinks its claws in and won’t let go.

The last thing my daughter wanted was to seek professional help. As her parents, we had to become very firm and insist on it. Her long-term health was at stake and I would never forgive myself if she chose to handle her depression and anxiety in a negative manner.

We found a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in the treatment of teens. We began by visiting every two weeks to help identify the specific triggers that were causing my daughter this depressive cloud that hovered over her like an impending rain storm. We were encouraged to learn that she wasn’t alone in her struggle. She wasn’t an anomaly. Help was available but sadly, she was another number in the growing statistic of teens with depression.

We chose to opt out of medicine for several months while my daughter (reluctantly) continued therapy but finally upon the suggestion of her provider, she made the choice to start a very low dose of Lexapro. We did not push her because we knew the decision to take medication needed to be hers. The effect wasn’t immediate; in fact it took time before we (and she) noticed results.

Gradually my daughter’s shell began to crack and what emerged was the lovely young woman we knew she was inside. It had been hidden for so long, we were beginning to forget who she truly was: a motivated, creative, empathetic, passionate young woman.

We were cautiously optimistic, but as time went on, our caution morphed into a feeling of gratefulness as the medication dose appeared to be working in a positive manner.

She is now pulling A’s and while she is still introverted and anxious in groups, she is OK with herself and embraces her individuality. Her creative spirit is once again soaring and her zest for life has returned. She has a strong faith life and finds church her respite. She took the initiative and deleted her social media accounts. Instead she chooses Podcasts where she can control what she listens to. She reads more books and opts for listening to music versus the narrative of perfection social media tends to portray.

We tend to view depression as a stigma and the aid of medication a crutch or display of weakness. In reality, I’ve finally learned it is the opposite. It takes a lot of bravery to come to terms with the fact we need help and even more bravery to do something about it.

I’ve learned we need to be involved in our mental health rather than relying on meds alone to fix it. It’s easy for me to let them take the brunt of the work. If we are diabetic or high in cholesterol, we take medicine but we are responsible for following up with our diagnosis and also focusing on healthy eating, exercise and proper self care. The same goes for depression.

I resisted taking medication for years because I felt I was letting myself down. I was afraid of appearing weak. I told myself that since I was a “crunchy mom,” I should be relying on natural remedies. I should be doing more yoga and diffusing my essential oils. I was embarrassed if others found out. Yet here I am 14 years later. I take Lexapro but I’ve come to embrace it as part of who I am. For now, anyway.

There are days you will still find me in a heap of tears on the couch. There are days that my daughter wants to stay in bed, but thankfully these days are happening less and less. It is not the purpose of medication to drown out every adversity we face in life. It is not designed to make us numb. We still need to feel and be present. The key is finding a balance. It means eliminating negative factors and choosing what serves us in the healthiest way possible.

While life, experiences and situations change, so might our depression. Our current medication therapy might be temporary, it might be a few years, it might be for life. It doesn’t really matter. My daughter and I deserve to live our lives as a healthy, grounded, thriving women. The world needs us.