ILWACO - In the darkened room of Perry VanOver's biology class, just over a dozen students sat silently last Friday, watching a homemade video on how to deal with depression as a teenager.
"It's important to understand it can be helped," said Dr. Lance E. Anderson, a doctor interviewed on the video, when asked for any final advise on the subject of teen depression. "Be compassionate and try and understand."
As the video ended and the lights came up, Carol Wright from the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Aaron Dugan of Astoria High School, the creator of the video, addressed the class of 11th-graders.
The topic is appropriate at a school where only a few years ago multiple suicides took place by students and former students. When asked how many students in the class know or have known someone that has dealt with depression, mental illness, or the new term "brain disorder," about half raised their hands. Wright said recognition of these symptoms is the most important thing, as the person themselves may not be as aware of their behavior.
Wright also spoke on the importance of minimizing the stigmas and stereotypes attached to the subject of, or people with a brain disorder. Some stereotypes can be as simple as calling someone a "psycho," "crazy," or "nuts."
"A lot of times we don't mean that," she said. "But to someone who has that, it really minimizes them."
Wright suggested the students try and notice things like whether a friend is having just a bad day or if their demeanor is becoming a pattern. Masking with drugs and/or alcohol is not uncommon for people who suffer from clinical depression. This dependency could also include things like sleeping too much, overeating, or other compulsive behavior. Wright said these students are at the right age to recognize these things and cut through the stigmas attached to depression and brain disorders.
One way to get past the stigma is to think of these kinds of illnesses like you would any other and treating them no differently.
Dugan said it is not a good idea to suggest that someone suffering from these afflictions can simply "snap out of it."
"That's like going up to someone with diabetes and telling them to produce insulin," he said. Not a far stretch in comparison, since many brain disorders have to do with chemical imbalances in the brain.
Maybe it was the proximity in time to the end of class that day, or maybe it was the sensitive subject being talked about, but of the 15 students in the class, few seemed to really be paying any attention. This included some students giving condemning looks to others when they asked questions, talking amongst themselves and making jokes with each other. Finally, with Principal Lisa Nelson making an appearance, the teacher was able to reign her students back in and have a somewhat productive end to the class with more student involvement.
Wright left the students with a way to get in touch with the local NAMI group and suggested that they "be a friend, and not just when it's easy," to someone who may have these problems.
You can contact the local NAMI chapter by calling, 642-3892.