A common theme often occurs with the teens that come through YouthZone’s doors – trauma and mental illness, masked by substance abuse.  As was the case for Laura, a teen who has had a difficult year, but is overcoming many hurdles in her life in order to embark on a promising future.

More than a year ago, Laura came to YouthZone following a minor possession charge.  After a lengthy assessment with her YouthZone counselor, Courtney Dunn, it was determined that Laura had been battling severe depression and had regular thoughts of suicide.

“When we see kids like Laura, there is often a case of severe trauma in their past,” said Dunn.  “Trauma can range from the death of a parent, to parents divorcing, to emotional or physical abuse.  With trauma, mental health issues also come into play, including severe depression, as we saw with Laura.”

Unfortunately, for many teens, they don’t fully understand how to cope with their depression, so they turn to, as Laura did, alcohol or marijuana for comfort and escape.  Laura’s childhood encompassed abuse that she was struggling to come to terms with, and she had little emotional support from her parents.  In her family’s culture, mental illness or depression was not talked about, and her parents were encouraging Laura to “stop talking about being depressed” or her suicidal thoughts.

Despite not having a strong support system at home, Laura slowly began to build the courage she needed to become an advocate for herself.  She also found support with YouthZone and a few key individuals in the community that stepped forward to offer care and guidance.  Understanding she needed more in-depth counseling and support, Laura applied for a rehabilitation facility outside of Colorado.  In Dunn’s opinion, Laura’s letter and application demonstrated one of the most sincere and heartfelt approaches she’s seen.

Laura was not only accepted to the facility, but she has since completed the in-patient care and is now working on her recovery and developing skills to continue to care for herself.  Through proper medication, counseling, and understanding the need to remain sober, Laura is learning how to manage her depression and deal with the emotions surrounding her past trauma.  And, while her parents weren’t entirely supportive of the process in the beginning, they’re now starting to better understand her depression and not see it as a flaw or weakness, but as something Laura will need to cope with, possibly, for the rest of her life.

All too often, youth experiencing trauma and depression don’t receive the help they need.  Laura’s situation could have resulted in suicide or potentially harming herself through drugs and alcohol.  With inner strength and courage, she has learned to love herself and triumph!