Depression. The word can stop people in their tracks. Admit it: We avert our eyes, feel queasy, get jumpy and want to run away when we hear it.
Depression seems nebulous and scary, like a ghost, and many of us don’t really know what the term means. But how do you fight something you can’t even identify?
That’s where Erika’s Lighthouse comes in. The Winnetka-based nonprofit brings together adults and teens, who encourage people to talk about childhood and adolescent depression, and educates them on how to recognize and treat the illness.
Recently, the group introduced the “Parent Handbook on Childhood and Adolescent Depression”—one of few books on depression written for parents by parents—at The Book Stall in Winnetka. The launch drew a crowd of more than 100, many of whom came from outside New Trier Township. And in the last week, the organization has fielded requests for the book from all over the country.
“Life is full of problems,” says founder Ginny Neuckranz. “This is a problem that could happen to you. And what you really want a child to learn is how to solve problems.”
Neuckranz named the organization for her daughter Erika, who committed suicide at age 14 after struggling with depression for a year. She says depression shouldn’t be thought of as so different from life’s other problems—especially since depression is not that unusual.
Research shows that 15 to 20 percent of children and teens will experience some type of depression before they reach adulthood. And, for the record, depression is defined as a sustained:
- Depressed mood
- Feeling of sadness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
- Sense of worthless and/or guilt
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
This definition, and the methods of treating depression, “should be common knowledge,” Neuckranz says.
Ninety percent of all suicides are a result of a mental disorder of some kind, such as depression. And suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 11 and 24—after accidents and homicides. When parents recognize the symptoms, depression is the easiest mental illness to diagnose. Two-thirds of children and adolescents with depression have another mental disorder, such as anxiety or ADHD.
The handbook, which can be read cover-to-cover in under an hour, is a practical guide for parents, based on the experiences of other parents. The first section takes parents through basic facts about depression and how to provide help for their children, at home and at school. The second section is a primer with details information on how depression is diagnosed and different types of treatments, including medications. The handbook is available free of charge at the Book Stall, or Erika’s Lighthouse will mail you a copy if you submit a request by mail or e-mail. The book is also available to download from their Web site.
Though there are a lot of books about depression, “there wasn’t a great parent-to-parent guide,” says Elaine Tinberg, who wrote the handbook based on group interviews with parents, and then had it reviewed by numerous specialists and pediatricians. The handbook is a result of three years of volunteer work by Tinberg and others.
“It’s good for parents who have received the diagnosis, but also for parents who are wondering,” says Peggy Kubert, who is director of the organization and a licensed clinical social worker. She hopes the book will help parents “be advocates for their kids” when it comes to depression.
Erika’s Lighthouse, “A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression,” was founded five years ago. It has implemented “Red Flags,” a comprehensive educational program on depression for children and teens, in 25 middle schools along the North Shore. It also has a teen board that speaks out about depression in Chicago area high schools.