Two young journalists discovered that they both live with depressive illness while working together. It was the first time either of them had discussed their illness with a peer. Finding strength and hope from their supportive connection, Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld began to investigate depression among their constituency: high school students.
Their research uncovered strong links between untreated depression and suicide among young people, as well as estimates that 11% of adolescents experience depression. With suicide the third leading cause of death for young people, Halpert and Rosenfeld felt obligated as journalists to shine a light on the issue: one plagued by the silence enforced by stigma.
They planned an entire issue of their high-school newspaper devoted to teens living with depression, and interviewed teenagers from around their school district about their experience with depression, addiction and anxiety.
Tackling the stigma — and the silence– head on, Halpert and Rosenfeld asked their interviewees to use their real names, and nearly all agreed. They even obtained parental approval.
However, the young editors ran into roadblocks from their administration, who eventually forbid them to publish. Fearing bullying and other blowback from the personal stories, school counselors and administrators nixed the project.
Our intrepid journalists were not content with just backing down. They published their tale in today’s New York Times Op-Ed page:
We were surprised that the administration and the adults who advocated for mental health awareness were the ones standing in the way of it. By telling us that students could not talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were trying to eliminate.
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.
Whenever people have the courage to stand up and speak the plain truth, and to therefore implicitly ask us to behave as a tolerant, compassionate society, I intend to cheer loudly and often. And to lend my support in whatever way I can.
I once lost a job because my depression became a factor in my performance. Had it been epilepsy, or alcoholism, I would have been protected by the Union and been able to keep my job.
Now I’m a free-lancer who no longer fears retribution for my speaking out. But I know there are many people who fear for their livelihood, kept silent by their corporate and government responsibilities. At best they live with the stress of hiding their illness and living with the fear that it might be discovered. Worse, many go without treatment or medication that could ease or eliminate the symptoms and ravages of the illness.
That’s why today I am Blogging for Mental Health 2014, and want everyone to know about the courage of those who speak out, like Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld. They are making a world where mental health means caring for yourself, without shame.