Alarmed, Jakeâs parents sent him to his primary-care physician, who prescribed Prozac, an antidepressant often given to anxious teenagers. It was the first of many medications that Jake, who asked that his last name not be used, would try over the next year. But none seemed to work â and some made a bad situation worse. An increase in dosage made Jake âmuch more excited, acting strangely and almost manic,â his father wrote in a journal in the fall of 2015. A few weeks later, Jake locked himself in a bathroom at home and tried to drown himself in the bathtub.
He was hospitalized for four days, but soon after he returned home, he started hiding out in his room again. He cried, slept, argued with his parents about going to school and mindlessly surfed the internet on his phone. The more school he missed, the more anxious he felt about missing school. And the more anxious he felt, the more hopeless and depressed he became. He had long wanted to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but now that felt like wishful thinking.
Not every day was bad. During spring break in 2016, Jakeâs father wrote: âJake was relaxed and his old sarcastic, personable, witty self.â A week later, though, Jake couldnât get through a school day without texting his mother to pick him up or hiding out in the nurseâs office. At home, Jake threatened suicide again. His younger siblings were terrified. âIt was the depth of hell,â his mother told me.
That summer, after two more hospitalizations, Jakeâs desperate parents sent him to Mountain Valley in New Hampshire, a residential treatment facility and one of a growing number of programs for acutely anxious teenagers. Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services. In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a…