Two brave teens shine a light on depression
By David Harris, MD and New Oakland Medical Director
Don’t be disillusioned: It’s tough out there. And that goes for everybody, even those who seem to have it all. I go back to the opening page of M. Scott Peck’s self-help classic, The Road Less Traveled:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” M. Scott Peck
Unfortunately, for those with untreated depression, the road becomes much bumpier and dangerous.
I bring this up to applaud two brave teenagers from Community High School in Ann Arbor, Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld. Both young ladies are aspiring
journalists and suffer from depression, and after one saw a bottle of Prozac in the other one’s purse at journalism conference, they openly discussed their feelings and use of antidepressants. But when they interviewed fellow students and wanted to bring their discovery into the open, they ran into a roadblock. The two then wrote about it in a op ed article in the New York Times.
“As editors at our high school newspaper we decided to fight against the stigma and proposed devoting a whole edition to personal stories from our peers who were suffering from mental illness. We wanted honesty with no anonymity.
We knew that discussing mental health in this way would be edgy, even for our progressive community in Michigan. We interviewed teenagers from around our school district who shared stories of depression, eating disorders, homelessness, prescription abuse, insomnia and anxiety. All agreed to attach their full name — no anonymity or pseudonyms.
But we were shocked when the school administration would not allow us to publish the articles.”
In fairness to the school, I understand the thinking of the Principal. Community High has advocated for mental health awareness and supports a depression awareness group at the school. But the potential backlash in regards bullying and further stigmatization at the hands of fellow students, as well as regret over their revealing their conditions, caused the administration to pull the plug on the girl’s plan.
The brave youngsters point out:
- Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people between 10 and 24 years old
- Untreated depression is one of the leading causes of suicide
- 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18
I fully agree with most of what the girls wrote, including this paragraph:
“The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals to talk to, we feel it doesn’t compare to sharing your experiences with a peer who has faced similar struggles. And, most important to us, no one afflicted with a mental illness should have to believe that it’s something he should feel obliged to hide in the first place. If someone has an illness such as diabetes, she is not discouraged from speaking about it. Depression does not indicate mental weakness. It is a disorder, often a flaw of biology, not one of character.”
I’ll leave you with another related quote from “The Road Lass Traveled:
“Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another…The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness. ”
We at New Oakland are here to help light the “rocky” path and, like Madeline and Eva, strive to make the conversation about mental illness free of stigma, shame, guilt and all other elements that add to life’s inherent difficulty.