Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Silent Illness

Mental illness is a topic often hushed or ignored. We produced our newest DVD, Depression: True Stories, to try to bring discussion on the topic out into the open.

2.2 million American teenagers are suffering from depression. Every year, 5,000 take their own lives. Most suicides occur among people suffering from untreated depression.

To try to inspire a statewide dialogue, we are co-hosting an educational forum at the Massachusetts State House January 16. It’s co-sponsored by Partners Health Care (Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals). It will feature Depression: True Stories and a panel of leading mental health experts.

Health care providers, advocates, policy and lawmakers, and educators have been invited.

Planning these events is always a leap of faith. People are busy. Will they take the time from their multitasking lives to attend? Will people want to talk about teen depression?

So many say the stigma surrounding mental illness keeps it closeted, thus hurting those who are suffering. The response to our e-mailed invitation is overwhelming – and ironic. Some, by their emailed comments, seem to be bursting to talk about the illness. Each RSVP tells me more about the scope of the problem.

When I learned that one school district is sending 10 school nurses I wondered, What’s going on in their school district? Teen depression is no secret to them. Are they looking for answers?

Corporations are sending staff of work/life programs. They know that when their employees’ kids are sick or suffering, productivity at work is hurt. Are they looking for answers?

Executive directors of mental health organizations plan to attend. They’re on the front lines. They know there’s a difference between the normal angst of adolescence and kids who are depressed. Are they looking for answers?

My goal is to let the young girl or boy who feels depressed – or feels bad and doesn’t know how talk about it – know they can ask for help. I understand that doing so is hard. Young people might not ask for help because of shame or confusion. That’s why the adults in their lives need to recognize the signs and know how to talk with them. Then, if kids do need help, they’ll get it.

More than 300 people want to join in this community dialogue. We will start the conversation. And together, as a community, we may be led to some answers. But there are no answers in silence.

Depression: True Stories
Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression and Other Mental Health Disorders

Related Issues and Answers columns
Bi-polar disorder
Coping with stress
Depression: A treatable disease

Related columns for young people


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