The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 26, 2010

Recognizing teen depression, preventing suicide

A unique program took place last week on the subject of teen depression and suicide. The presentations were made by a nurse, a counselor and a young college woman who has suffered deeply from depression but is tackling the illness. In addition, a short documentary film showed seven young adults’ own accounts of their illness and how they are coping. It was a moving experience for the crowd of over 60 people in the Little Theater at Concord-Carlisle High School. The program was sponsored by the CCHS School Parents Association.

Mental illness is common

Sue Hanly, RN & NCSN (National Certified School Nurse), said the program was created to educate the public about mental illness in children ages 9 to 17. “One in five has a diagnosable psyche disorder.” She put this into perspective for CCHS. With a student population of 1221, “244 students have a diagnosable psyche disorder;” 122 will have a serious mental health issue. “Only 24 kids get the help they need. And that means 98 CCHS students with a serious mental health issue are not getting the help they need.”

Hanly defined signs of depression in children: trouble sleeping at night, irritability and fighting with siblings and friends. They say things like: “I stink. I’m no good. Everyone is better than me.” Some kids want to know where their parents are at all times. She noted that a child’s academic work may not be impacted by mental illness. Hanly cautioned there were no quick fixes. Her daughter Caroline then spoke to the crowd.

A teen talks about depression

Caroline Hanly, a pretty college student, spoke of her journey with depression. During her high school years, she suffered from anxiety and overdosed twice. She stopped taking her medication. “I was cutting regularly,” she said.

Caroline described how deep depression feels. “It’s all consuming. Everything you think about. Everything you do. I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness. It takes pleasure out of everything you do. It makes you really irritable. I would have a lot of animosity towards others. They are happy, why aren’t I?” Her chest would feel empty. She felt an ache to cut. When she heard of others dying, she felt not sadness, but envy. When driving, she wished someone would hit her and that way, it wouldn’t be her fault. She considered suicide as a way to make the lives of those who love her easier, “because I would be gone.”

Caroline spoke about her need to cut herself, which for a while was daily. “It’s a way to mask emotional pain with physical pain . . . It’s so hard to stop.” She thinks she will be able to stop cutting gradually. So far, she has not been able to go more than four months without cutting.

Caroline talked about three things that help her cope: counseling, medication and a support system. “In the beginning, I thought counseling was really strange and uncomfortable. It takes a while to find someone [you feel comfortable with] but then it’s worth it.”

Caroline has tried many different medications. She confessed that at first, she resisted being on medication every day of her life. Since then, she realizes the medication works and accepts that. “You will eventually find something that works for you . . . Meds have saved my life.”

Her family and friends are her support system. She treasures her friend who says, “I will always be here to listen.” “It is just so important to know someone is there for you,” she said.

She realizes she will keep hitting lows. “What’s different now is that I know how to deal with it.” By sharing so much of herself, she hopes to bring hope and education to others.

The mother’s perspective

Sue Hanly discussed what she would do differently. Each year of high school she didn’t tell Caroline’s teachers about her issues. She wanted her daughter to have a fresh start. But then she would have to talk to them after a crisis. “I wish I had been more forthcoming and had not tried to hide information out of embarrassment or shame,” said Hanly. She advised several actions. Let the counselor on the outside talk to the counselor inside the school. Sign the forms so they can share information. If the school calls you about something that is happening there with your child, don’t ignore it. Let the school know if your child is in counseling or is on medication.

Hanly was more pro-active when it was time for her daughter to go to college. She insisted that it had to be within driving distance. She and her daughter met with the head of the college’s counseling center and, “We gave a full history.” Together they put a plan in place for continued counseling.

Young adults tell their story

A short film was shown featuring seven young adults who suffer from depression. Each told their own story, sharing their feelings of despair and lack of self-worth. They spoke of trying to take their own lives. Their testimony provides awareness and some understanding of the illness they suffer from and shows their path to wellness. Their film, “Breaking Free from Depression,” can be seen online at:

Dealing with mental health issues

Licensed social worker Diana Walsh, who has worked with teens with depression for over 20 years, gave insight into counseling and why it’s important. Mental health issues come from within. “It’s biochemical. You’re born with it,” she said. The journey begins when people accept who they are. These people need to go into therapy.


Teens with depression can have impulsive, explosive bouts of anger. They are very easily agitated, never happy, and frequently aggravated by siblings, Walsh said. She advised that if your teen has these symptoms, it might be time to think about therapy. Younger children who are suffering from depression but don’t have the words to describe what they are feeling, may constantly be complaining about headaches, stomach aches and not wanting to go to school. “Feelings are transient. Depression is not transient. You stay down. Look for feelings that are not transient.”

Parents need help

Walsh explained that children who want to cut themselves or cause their own deaths are suffering from an illness. Like strep throat, you need outside help for the cure. “You cannot give your child therapy. You can’t deal with your child’s mental health issues by yourself. It’s not about the relationship you have with your child. It’s about what your child needs.”

Parents ask her why their children can not confide in them. Walsh responds, “You are too important to them. They are not willing to risk hurting you or upsetting you.” She strongly encouraged, “Let go of that need to help them yourself,” let go of the guilt, the shame or embarrassment you may feel . . . “It’s not your fault, it’s an illness, like cancer or diabetes.”

Counseling and treatment

Walsh gave several reasons for children to see her. They feel disconnected and isolated. Counseling offers education, ways of coping and treatment. When children unburden themselves, it becomes less overwhelming. Her advice: “Let someone else hold that pain.”

The depressed teenager frequently resists counseling. “I don’t need therapy. You’re the problem. You can’t make me.” Walsh was clear. “You don’t give your child the choice . . . This is your child’s health. It is your responsibility.” Parents don’t give children the option of not getting immunized; children who need therapy, should not be given any option either.

Getting started

If your child needs counseling, Walsh suggests six weeks. That’s enough time to do an assessment and educate the child. There are many counselors and therapists. “If you don’t like me, go find someone else. Keep searching till you find someone that works for you.” Some kids do better in a group session. They realize they are not the only ones who feel the way they feel. “You’ve got to make them go.”

Walsh personally believes that clinics, rather than individual counselors, provide a better solution for mood swing disorders and depression. In a clinic, a team, possibly consisting of a therapist, a psychiatrist and group therapy leader, will come together and work on the case. “It’s more comprehensive.” Walsh also encouraged parents not to be afraid of medication. “It doesn’t have to be lifelong. It’s a tool.”

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