Friday, October 10, 2008

Baby Steps in Gloucester

The school board in Gloucester, Massachusetts, home of the rumored “pact” among seventeen pregnant teens, has approved contraceptive distribution at the high school. Parents can opt out, meaning their kids won’t be able to get birth control in the school clinic.

One school board member, Melissa Teixeira, who voted for the measure, urges parents to think before opting out. “Ask yourself, are you approachable?”

A survey conducted by Gloucester High School students suggests many parents may not be. Of those students surveyed, forty-nine percent said they were uncomfortable talking with their parents about sex.

What does it mean to be an “approachable” parent? It means listening more than you talk; sharing your values without preaching; and asking open-ended questions. A simple, “What do you think about that?” can go a long way toward keeping a conversation going.

Surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation reveal that most kids want to be able to talk with their parents about sex. Most parents want to have these conversations, too. The difficulty often arises from discomfort, as the Gloucester students referenced in their survey.

In the coming months, I urge the Gloucester School Committee and the city’s Department of Public Health to offer workshops that teach parents the skills, strategies, and the words they need to feel more comfortable talking with their kids about sexual health. It’s the next step in the right direction.

Resources
Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health
Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health
What Works: Sexuality Education

Related Issues and Answers columns
Parents as educators
Postponing sex
Self-respect
Talking with kids

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Expert on Depression

The official Web site of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, invites visitors “…to walk our pristine beaches, to revel in our arts and culture...”

A survey conducted last winter, in mental health centers on Cape Cod, revealed another side of the Cape: unusually high rates of depression among its residents.

The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and Department of Public Health responded by convening a three-hour Cape Cod Town Meeting on Depression.

Depression is often cloaked in silence feeding the stigma that too often surrounds the illness.

But a few weeks ago, on a sunny September morning, more than five hundred (five hundred!) healthcare providers, advocates, parents, teachers, and policy makers showed up at the Town Meeting to talk about depression.

They viewed our DVD, Depression: True Stories, and asked questions of an expert panel. “How can you tell the difference between a moody teen and one that’s depressed?” “With so few mental health providers, how can we get help if we suspect depression?” “How can we help our adult son who is depressed but won’t get help?”

Attendees also heard from twenty-three-year-old Matthew McWade. Matthew was diagnosed with major depression at thirteen.

His mother learned everything she could about depression, at a time when Matthew didn’t want to face the illness.

“My mother became an expert on my symptoms and on every suggested medication,” he said. “She became more connected with my therapy than I was.”

“She perfected her knowledge of the mental health system,” he continued. “The key to my recovery was the word ‘we.’”

Depression hurts people with the illness, and those who love them. But it can be treated. Lives can be transformed and saved. But first, families and communities have to be willing to talk about it.

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

Related Issues and Answers columns
Depression: A treatable disease
Preventing suicide

Related columns for young people

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