‘Reaching out’ the hardest part of depression
Jodi Fleishman knows how important a hand on the shoulder or a sincere “How are you?” can be. She wishes more teens knew.Fleishman, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, was among a handful of local student researchers who volunteered last year to gather data for the “Better Understanding Depression and Suicide” project, which was commissioned by the Eagle River Youth Coalition.Fleishman and nine other student researchers interviewed a total of 40 students identified as being at risk for depression or suicide. Fleishman, a former “peer counselor” at Battle Mountain, said she volunteered because she’d come to know Youth Coalition Director Beth Reilly and wanted to help with the project.The project gathered information on a kid-to-kid level. Student researchers were trained, sent out to their schools, and brought the information gathered in the interviews to project coordinator Holly Woods, an Avon-based consultant.”Kids in this study are talking about their friends or themselves,” Woods said. “They’ll tell their peers things they won’t tell adults.”What these teens – talking either about themselves or “someone they know” – told their peers is troubling, especially in the wake of the suicide of an Eagle Valley High School student March 31.”One of the most important findings is these teens are not involved,” Woods said. “They don’t have a lot of friends, they feel outcast from normal kids and cut off – from their peers and at home.”That isolation can feed depression or suicidal thoughts. And those thoughts are common. Fleishman said everyone she talked during her research either had suicidal thoughts or knew someone who had.”I was surprised,” Fleishman said. “It’s a huge deal. It just happened at Eagle Valley. We’re surprised because we’re in small-town Vail, but depression, suicide, crime … they’re all here.”Asked what she’d like to see the study accomplish, Fleishman said teens and adults should be more attuned to depression in young adults, though that can be difficult.
The peer interviews revealed that youths exhibiting signs of depression felt their parents didn’t or couldn’t understand what they were going through. Many said their parents and friends believed they were “going through a phase” when they were depressed.Given that many teens can be emotional, the job of finding and helping truly troubled youth presents still other problems.”Distinguishing the cries for help can be difficult,” Woods said. Some youth are clinically depressed and require specific treatment. Other students aren’t clinically depressed, but still need help. Beyond the stigma Beyond that, depression still carries a stigma in the adult world, and even more among teens, Woods said. “That pushes them even further into depression,” she said.Fleishman knows first-hand about feeling alone. A recent death in the family, “Really brought home the struggle so many other people go through,” she said. That experience pushed Fleishman into her own hole, one that was made better by the people who asked how she was doing every day. “Without the people and support, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. Fleishman also found she, too, needed to reach out.”The hardest thing is to reach out and ask for help,” she said.Knowing that not a lot of youths who need help will seek it, and especially not from adults, Fleishman said she’d like to see Battle Mountain’s peer counseling program revived.”It was a really, really valuable program. We heard some unbelievable stories,” Fleishman said. “High school is so judgmental; finding someone to talk to, to work through, is so important.”Woods said peer counseling is valuable, since kids are sometimes better able to see depression in other youths than adults are.
Peer counseling is just one element of addressing depression in local teens, Eagle County School District Superintendent John Brendza said. “There’s a lot we need to be doing,” he said. “We spend seven-and-a-half hours a day with these kids, but we need to address what goes on when they aren’t in school, too.”Community issueBrendza said a recent seminar sponsored by the Youth Coalition helped drive home the idea that virtually every group in the community has a role to play in stopping teen suicide. In the wake of the student death at Eagle Valley, he said, “Everyone involved … did a commendable job dealing with it.”But,” he added, “we need to do something different up front. We need to start earlier than ninth grade or sixth grade to reach these kids.” While early intervention at school is important, Woods said, more has to happen at home. “We need more parental involvement,” she said. “Help doesn’t mean just dropping kids off at a counselor’s office and picking them up an hour later.”Beyond schools and families, church and other youth groups ought to be involved as well. “It’s a hard thing to get everyone together to share information and do our parts,” Brendza said.Woods said getting help isn’t necessarily out of reach financially. The Eagle County Department of Social Services has a list of family counselors who will charge on a sliding scale, and some who will work for free if a family’s financial circumstances require it.While treating depression alone won’t stop teen suicide, “It can stop the slide,” Woods said.”Everybody has issues,” Fleishman added. “Being able to step out and get help, personally or for a friend, is so important. They need to know no one’s alone in their problems.”
===============”Better Understanding Depression and Suicide”What: A study that surveyed the feelings of 40 local teens who exhibited depressive or suicidal behavior.Who participated: 40 “at risk” teens, ages 13 to 19. It was not a survey of the general population.The numbers: • 63 percent reported they felt depressed “all the time.”• 78 percent reported having suicidal thoughts.• 88 percent reported feeling “hopeless” or “worthless.”• 58 percent reported current alcohol use, with 18 percent reporting use of other drugs.For help or more information, call any local school or the Eagle County Department of Health and Human Services, 328-8840.===================Vail Colorado