There, but for the grace of God—and many good professionals and others who understand teen depression—go I.
My family could have suffered the same tragedy as several Lake Forest families who lost adolescents to suicide in recent months.
My heart breaks for these families suffering the ultimate pain: Three Lake Forest High School students were killed by Metra trains, and a former student—who set school athletic records before heading to Boston College—hung himself. This isn’t the first suicide cluster to hit the northern suburbs. Recently, over a three-year period, five Barrington High School students took their lives.
Depression strikes up to 20 percent of our adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. If our society doesn’t get smarter about discussing, identifying and treating teen depression—bust the stigma better and faster—there will be others, too.
Every parent and school faculty member working with students from middle school through college needs to know depression’s symptoms and be brave enough to address them when they appear in an adolescent. The symptoms include: loss of interest in activities, sadness, hopelessness, anger or hostility, changes in eating or sleeping habits, lack of energy and loss of enthusiasm.
However, it can be hard to discern between “normal” erratic teenage behavior and “depressed” behavior, as was the case with our child. It can also be hard to discuss with the teen or with others. As the mother of a depressed teen, I felt weak, beat-up, raw. I didn’t think I had the energy to “fight” with or for my misbehaving child any longer. Fortunately, others did and we established a network of support. Eventually, lots of talking about it helped heal our child and our family.
There are a growing number of excellent resources to help identify and deal with adolescent depression. Barrington High School implemented a curriculum developed by Johns Hopkins Medical School, and recently shared it with Lake Forest. Erika’s Lighthouse offers a program for middle schools, a parent handbook and extensive opportunities for teens. The Balanced Mind Foundation has a growing body of helpful content and connections, and several excellent online sites exist including HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit collaboration with the Harvard Medical School, and the U.S. National Library of Health.
Author Ned Vizzini wrote “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” based on his own hospitalization for depression, and he speaks extensively on the topic to schools. Lake Forest has brought him in at least twice in the past year.
Currently, professionals believe that only one in five adolescents suffering from depression receive treatment. Those numbers must improve. And the best way for that to happen is for all of us to help bust the stigma and talk about it more.