I heard a piece on the radio yesterday about how experiencing depression as a young adult can have a profound impact on a person’s career outcomes. The story, on NPR’s Marketplace, talks about how the National Institutes of Health estimate that there are 58 million of us in the United States who experience some form of mental health issue. These days, the piece went on to say, stigma is not as bad as it was when I was young, and medications are better.
For a person who is age 50 now, having had depressive episodes as a younger person is related to having a lower-than-average salary later in life, 24% lower than people who weren’t depressed.
I was depressed a lot in my twenties, and at that time there weren’t any medications offered to me that helped with my depression. I don’t remember exactly when I was first offered an SSRI, but I was probably in my early thirties, by which time I had experienced several extended periods of depression, eating disorders, and thoughts of suicide.
I was aware that I was smart and creative, but I also had persistent self-doubts. Looking back, I can see that I kept derailing myself, unable to believe that I could reach my goals. I started a Ph.D. program and then left to go to Japan and teach English. I came back and spent two years changing my major. I was writing fiction the whole time, but I didn’t really believe I would do anything with it.
So here I am now, over 50 (50 plus plus shall we say?), and I have a decent salary, but I could have had a much better one if I’d ditched the Ph.D. and the writing and just stuck with the job I started with. I have a Ph.D. I have done very little with, unless I argue that it helps my writing. And I have books I’ve written that I’m just now starting to publish. Plus I have two young adult children with their own mental health experiences.
What does this all mean? It definitely means that depression and other mental health issues are not treated like other illnesses. The radio says that we’re starting to get better at working with people who aren’t like others. I am willing to be convinced.