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Mental health Identifying youth at risk

With so many young people experiencing depression, schools and health care providers need to work together to identify kids who are showing signs of the illness.

In Massachusetts, 300 educators from middle/high schools and colleges/universities joined in two 90-minute Webinars Depression: True Stories. These online events were held on April 16, 2009 and November 18, 2009 by McLean Hospital, Harvard’s largest psychiatric facility, and Words Can Work. These Webinars were supported by a grant from a private family trust.

Participating educators received information, communication strategies, and tools they will use to start and continue potentially lifesaving conversations with students, parents, and colleagues about mental health and depression.

Participants received complimentary copies of the DVD Depression: True Stories and the booklet Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression to view and read prior to each Webinar.

Jeanne Blake, Words Can Work founder facilitated the Webinar. Dr. Joseph Gold, the Chief Medical Officer of McLean Hospital, and Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, the Director of McLean Hospital’s College Mental Health Initiative shared their expertise and insight and answered participant’s questions.

When depression is recognized and treated early, the person suffering from the illness may recover more quickly.

“The earlier you intervene, the easier it is to motivate the student to get help,” Dr. Gold said. “Depression robs a person of their sense of purpose and their enjoyment of favorite activities. It makes it harder to think clearly. If you can detect depression early, the student is more likely to still care, believe they can get well, and want to resume their favorite activities.”

During the Webinars, educators viewed excerpts of Depression: True Stories. In one clip, professional basketball player Chamique Holdsclaw describes the response of some friends to learning that she was depressed.

“I had friends call me,” Chamique says, “It’s like ‘man, you ain’t no depressed. How are you depressed?’ They were saying, ‘You know, you grew up in the ‘hood and you’ve been through all types of stuff. How are you depressed?’”

It’s a myth that only certain types of people can experience depression. This myth contributes to the stigma that often surrounds the illness.

“Young people must learn that depression happens to people regardless of their cultural or economic background, their gender or age,” says Dr. Pinder-Amaker. “When they understand this, they can accept their own depression as and illness and be more supportive and accepting of others with depression.”

And when young people understand that depression is a treatable illness, not a character weakness, they may be more willing to accept life transforming and lifesaving medical treatment.

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Depression: True Stories - DVD
Young adults and their families tell about living with depression.
Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression - Booklet
Young people, teens and parents tell how they discuss depression.
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