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How a mom's reaction to son's depression helped him out of "darkness"

Family shares how son overcame depression
How a mom's reaction to son's depression helped him "feel the daylight again" 04:22

Will Hargen was 17 and carrying a secret only he knew. When he asked his mom, Tracy, "Hey mom, can we talk?" she thought her all-American, high school junior was feeling typical teenage stress.  

"But then when he said, 'I'm depressed. I mean, I'm seriously depressed and have been for a long time,' that blew me away," Tracy told CBS News' Mark Strassmann. "He was upbeat, he was getting up every day, he was involved in his activities. So it was confusing. And I'm thinking', 'What's he talking about 'I'm depressed.'"

Her first reaction was denial -- not of his feelings -- but that she wouldn't have noticed. But Will says he has felt blue since he was nine.

"Joy really wasn't there much. It wasn't that I started to become sad more often, I just started to become apathetic," Will explained. "I simply told her, 'Look, for as long as I can remember, I've been very depressed… It was a lot of unknown to me, so trying to describe it to her was difficult. But I knew that this wasn't normal, and I knew that I was miserable."

It's estimated more than three million U.S. children age 12 to 17 have at least one major depressive episode per year. That's about one in eight adolescents. Since Will was nine, he thought he needed to just figure it out himself. But when he opened up about his depression, his mother realized her next words mattered.

"So I said to him, 'Thank you so much for telling me. Thank you for trusting me. I can tell this is really hard for you. I just want you to know we're going to be here for you. From here on out, you're not on your own,'" Tracy said. 

Suicide attempt survivors offer insight and advice 09:41

Kim Kirkup, a licensed professional counselor treated Will for about eight months. The Hargens gave "CBS This Morning" permission to talk to her.

"By realizing that, you know, whenever somebody is depressed you have to act. If it drags on for too long it's just going exacerbate everything," Kirkup said.

Will said he never felt suicidal before telling his mother but opening up to her, Will said, could have gone one of two ways.

"That was a moment where things could have gotten significantly better or far worse very quickly," Will said.

He is now 19 and a student at Bentley University in Massachusetts. His freshman class was asked to write a one-sentence statement on their arm called "Dear World."

"I wrote the phrase 'I can feel the daylight again,' on my forearm over here. Essentially saying, 'I'm out of the darkness. I can actually feel things again. And I can enjoy the daylight,'" Will said.

When Will's mom first saw those words on his arm, she said she broke down.

"Because when I saw it, he was standing there so powerfully, so just in his own being… He's telling all these strangers his story, and he's telling them, 'I'm better,'" Tracy said.

It's something to think about if someone close to you says, "Can we talk?"

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