Many people talk about depression when they’re feeling sad. But Sonia, who was on the youth panel at a community forum for advocates, health-care providers and media, explained to a packed room that what she experiences is very different from feeling a bit down.
“I feel like a tool that breaks a lot… It makes me feel like I’m not what a person is supposed to be,” she said.
New America Media hosted the forumin San Francisco last week to address youth depression, and how storytelling can help with feelings of isolation. The State of California Office of Health Planning reports that mental diseases and disorders are the largest cause of hospitalization
for kids in California. And according to UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, almost 20 percent
of California youth, ages 12-17, reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems. In Alameda County, that number jumps up to 30 percent.
But the help, or treatment, that young people receive, isn’t always what they’re looking for. Someone who’s trying to change that is Patrick Gardner, the Executive Director of the Young Minds Advocacy Project, a non-profit organization that helps low-income youth and their families.
He noted that many of the panelists had experienced problems within the mental health system.
“For example, when they said ‘Oh, I had a different therapist every year,’ Well, that’s what we call continuity of care,” said Gardner. “Providing a therapist each year, such that a young person has to tell their story over and over and over again, is in some ways uncaring on one level, but also ineffective on another.”
Gardner is convinced that the mental health care system can drastically improve to meet those needs. But before young people even enter the system or start seeing therapists, often the most important first responders are family members.
At the forum, young people from Chinese, Indian and Filipino backgrounds explained how their depression wasn’t culturally accepted.
Twenty-three-year-old Amber Cavarlez said her depression started when her mother died from cancer and her brother began attempting suicide. But talking about hardship or emotions just wasn’t part of her Filipino culture. Instead of talking about it, she said, they lit candles at church. So she turned to the Internet.
“I would Google stuff like, how do you get colon cancer? How do you get rid of it?... Finally, my mom died from it, now what? Just like any self-diagnosing thing without a doctor, or professional -- you start to self-blame, and … because you’re getting information from an outside source that doesn’t know your personal story,” she said.
Her words of wisdom for the Filipino American community? When a child is depressed, families can project shame without even meaning too. That shame can be debilitating.
Some families present at the forum were looking for ways to recognize symptoms, so that they could seek help. One audience member asked, “My daughter is a frequent procrastinator. And recently she tells me that her procrastination is due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Will ADHD lead to depression in the long run?”
The forum’s key message was that depression is a treatable illness. While it might be treatable, the youth panelists reiterated that it doesn’t feel curable. By sharing their stories, these young people are helping to de-mystify what depression feels like for those who can help, people who are often the closest to them.