QUEENS VILLAGE — When we met Adrian Rodriguez of Queens Village five years ago, she was 12 years old, and she’d just spent nearly a week under psychiatric observation at a Suffolk County hospital.
Rodriguez said she was being bullied in middle school, and she began cutting her wrists with pencils so she could focus on physical pain, instead of emotional pain.
“I would cut myself and see myself bleed,” Rodriguez recalled of that time. “It was a ‘distracting the brain’ kind of thing.”
Five years later, Rodriguez is turning 17 this month and now a junior in high school. She’d like to be a physical therapist one day. But she still needs help to ward off paralyzing anxiety attacks that sent her to the emergency room four times last August.
“She thought that her heart was going to pop out of her chest, it was beating so hard,” her father, Arcadio Rodriguez, told PIX11. “I was actually in the car with her, driving her around, trying to get her to focus on other things.”
Rodriguez is one of several million adolescents and teens who struggle with anxiety and depression.
A report by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2016 found more than three million adolescents, ages 12 to 17, had suffered at least one, major depressive episode the previous year.
Dr. Renee Goodwin, a clinical psychologist who teaches at both Columbia University and the City University of New York, spent 10 years on a research study that looked at depression in the United States.
“We found the most striking increase among 12 to 17 year olds,” Dr. Goodwin said. “The general ‘state of being’ of a young person today is different than it was twenty years ago.”
Goodwin’s research found rates of depression jumped in the 12 to 17 year old group from 8.7 percent to 12.7 percent during the course of the study.
Girls traditionally have higher depression rates than boys, but Goodwin found depression in young males was increasing at a disturbing rate.
The Centers for Disease Control had found in an earlier study that suicide rates for boys were up 31 percent.
When we asked Dr. Goodwin about the role of technology in increased depression rates, she replied, “Certainly, social media can play a role, and cyberbullying.”
The doctor talked about young, developing minds being exposed to instant, social comparisons by way of the Internet.
“Now, it’s right at your fingertips all the time,” Dr. Goodwin observed.
But the doctor also pointed out the nation’s opioid crisis — and family history — can also be playing a role in depression rates, with “parental mental health very closely linked” to a child’s state of mind.
Adrian Rodriguez’ father said his only child’s emotional trouble started when she went to school, but he acknowledged that he struggled with bullying and mental health problems as a child, too.
“When I was 7or 8, I had issues in school. My weight, the way I looked,” Arcadio Rodriguez recalled. “I was diagnosed with manic depression. My mother took me to therapy. I was on medication.”
His daughter told PIX11 she resisted taking medicine to curb her anxiety and a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
She said when she was 14, she got involved with a boyfriend who abused her physically and emotionally.
“He told me he suffered from ADHD, depression,” Adrian Gonzalez remembered. “He would do drugs that kind of made him crazier, angrier.”
The teen said her ex-boyfriend introduced her to marijuana.
“When I was high, I felt crazy. I was paranoid,” Adrian said. “He would make me pass out. Then, he would rape me.”
Adrian Rodriguez started going to therapy when she was 12, and stopped when she was 14.
She decided to try Zoloft in March 2017 to curb her anxiety.
It worked, at first, but several months later, Adrian said she started suffering side effects.
“I could not sleep,” Adrian recalled. “I was just so restless that I couldn’t function properly.”
Adrian Rodriguez stopped taking Zoloft, but within a month, she was suffering from debilitating anxiety attack in August 2017.
After the teen went to the emergency room four times, a doctor recommended a new, anti-anxiety medication called Lexipro.
“I can sleep now, I can go about my day regularly,” Adrian Rodriguez said. “I feel definitely much better.”
Adrian’s father, who told PIX11 he stopped taking medication but goes to counseling three times a month, said his daughter was doing better with Lexipro.
“If it wasn’t for the medication, I don’t think she’d be able to function as a normal, human being,” Arcadio Rodriguez said.
A painful assessment to make about your child, and there’s no single treatment that promises results for all.
But Adrian Rodriguez is grateful she’s found a medicine that’s worked well for her.
“I feel there’s hope for me,” Adrian Rodriguez said.
The city of New York — with a strong push from First Lady Chirlane MacCray — has made the emotional health of citizens a priority.
Medication doesn’t work for everyone; some of those affected by anxiety and depression try relaxation techniques, athletic pursuits, and psychotherapy.
The city has 54 initiatives designed to improve mental health.
If you need information, you can contact nyc.gov/thrivenyc.