Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Depression is real, and needs attention

August 13, 2014

Q.I’m scared. My mom is depressed. I saw that Robin Williams committed suicide because he was depressed. My mom has done rehab. I saw that happened to Robin Williams, too. My gram says my mom is doing just fine. She said I’m worried about nothing. But I know people lie to kids like me to try to protect them. I don’t understand why a person with everything like money and fame would want to die. My mom isn’t famous, and we’re not rich. Should I talk with her? What if I talk with her and she gets mad at me? I love her and I want to keep her safe. One more thing. I don’t think I’ve ever been really depressed but sometimes I hear my friends say they are. Then later they’re happy. Do you think my friends are in danger?


Mary Jo’s response: Your questions show the beauty of your spirit; you are a sensitive, caring young person. I admire your courage in talking with your gram and then writing to me. I respect your concern for your mom. I won’t lie to you.

Depression is real and can be very serious. People don’t just “snap out of it” any more than a person with a broken leg can heal without professional help. Many people don’t understand mental health and mental illness. Depression isn’t a person’s fault. Not all people who deal with depression consider suicide.

I’m very glad you spoke with someone in your family. Your gram may be telling you the truth. Your mom may be just fine right now. I don’t think you’ll feel better until you talk with your mom, though. I’m sure your mom knows about Robin Williams’ death. Sharing your fear will give her a chance to tell you how she feels. Families are all different. Some families talk about everything, while other families avoid talking about serious subjects. Your mom may not talk about her depression or her addiction because she wants to protect you. Once she knows you’re concerned she may feel safe talking with you.

Your mom needs to know you love her. She needs to hear you say how much you want her to be safe. Many of us forget to tell the people closest to us how much they mean to us. If you share your love and your desire to keep her safe, I doubt your mom will be angry.

Please remember your mom is an adult. You are not responsible for her choices. If she is depressed, it isn’t your fault. Your love for her is wonderful, but she needs the help of professionals to be healthy. Think of that broken leg. If your mom had a broken leg, no one would expect her to limp around on it, hoping it will heal on its own. Depression is treatable, but a person needs to seek help.

When friends say, “I’m depressed,” they may not be dealing with serious depression. People often use words without thinking of their exact meaning. Most people feel sad at one time or another. Clinical depression is different from feeling sad one moment and happy the next. Young people your age may be going through puberty – a time of growth when emotions can change quickly, like a roller coaster. Feelings can have rapid ups and downs.

Signs and symptoms of serious depression may include:

1. Sleep problems, from insomnia to oversleeping.

2. Appetite changes, which may include weight loss when not dieting.

3. Low energy.

4. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities.

5. Trouble concentrating or making decisions.

6. Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless.

7. Neglecting personal appearance or responsibilities.

8. Feeling irritable or anxious.

9. Thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression is not logical. People suffering from clinical depression may not be able to see a way out of their problems. Thinking clearly about the situation may not be possible. Depression can affect anyone, including people who are famous and have a lot of money.

There are many good people and agencies ready to help anyone in need of counseling. The Washington County Crisis Line is 1-877-225-3567. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). A trained counselor will connect to the caller. You are not alone, and neither is your mom.

I asked a former peer educator who is now an adult to offer you support. He dealt with his dad’s depression when he was your age. He told me to share his thoughts: When I was young my dad went through a very serious depression. He tried to take care of it himself by drinking. It was scary. I went to Mary Jo and my pastor for help. Together they helped my dad get treatment. My story ended well because my dad has been sober and OK for over 20 years. What I remember most about being 12 was feeling helpless. I couldn’t control my dad’s depression. You can’t control your mom’s mental health, but you can stay in touch with trusted adults who support you. If I had known at 12 how well life would turn out, I would have worried a lot less. Try to enjoy being a kid. I hope everything works out for you, too.

I echo his wish and hope all is well. Please stay connected.

Have a question? Connect with Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski at



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