NEWARK – Samantha Gillespie struggled with depression. Her home life wasn’t the best, she said.
The 15-year-old Newark High School sophomore felt like she was invisible and that her life didn’t mean anything to them. But she kept her grades up so her parents wouldn’t know she was depressed.
“I was definitely hiding under a mask,” she said. “I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was dying.”
Samantha has pulled through. With the help of friends and the support of YES Club, where she’s a member, she received the support she needed. A girl who used to inflect self-harm now wants to be a counselor to help others who have struggled like she has. She talks about her struggles to hopefully give strength to someone in a similar situation.
“I’m so much happier now that I have supporters,” she said.
Samantha said many of her friends have struggled with depression, too. They aren’t alone. Data from depression screenings of Newark High School ninth-graders this school year flagged 24 percent of 331 screened students for depression. And 30 students answered yes to questions about suicide.
Teen mental health was among one of many concerns identified in the recent United Way of Licking County’s Community Blueprint. The 46-page document, a culmination of a two-year study by a number of collaborating agencies, includes surveys from residents, service providers and agency beneficiaries.
Scott Koebel, a school counselor at Newark High School, said the screenings are effective in helping teens.
“We always come across certain students that maybe we did not expect going in to be flagged as at-risk. They’ve kind of gone under the radar,” Koebel said. “This gives them a way to let someone know that they’re hurting and they could use some help.”
But when a teen needs help where can a parent turn? And when does the situation merit seeking out a counselor or medication? Koebel said it’s tough to know the difference between situational depression and when there is a chemical imbalance, but he always airs on the side of caution.
“If I’m concerned, I’m going to let the parent know,” he said. “In talking to the student, sometimes you can tell it’s situational because they’re just focused on that situation.”
Koebel said while he’s not trained to diagnose problems, he see signs when dealing with different situations. For example, he said he often sees peer conflicts in his role as a ninth-grade counselor.
“If they’re just focused on that peer conflict and … you’re kind of feeling out other areas and they’re not talking about stress at home, they’re not talking about sleep issues or weight changes or some of the other symptoms that come along with mental health issues, that leaves you to believe it’s more situational.
“But if they talk about mood changes and they talk about really high anxiety, sleep changes, weight loss, those type of things, that you know gets you concerned.”
Shari Johnston, compeer coordinator at Mental Health America of Licking County, said if a parent is concerned about their child, they should try making minor changes. Make sure the teen is eating healthy and getting enough rest.
“If they’re able to get some rest and do some self care and feel better, than you’re good. It’s when it doesn’t go away (that they might need help),” she said.
Johnston along with Justina Wade, suicide prevention coordinator and youth self-advocacy coordinator at MHA, co-facilitate a teen support called Circle of Hope. The two also work in schools throughout the county.
Johnston said one sign it might be time for a teen to talk with someone or involve a counselor is when the teen is more than just sad.
“You can be sad and you can have a bad day or you can have a couple bad days, but if you feel like you’re sad and you can’t out of that, you’re more than sad,” she said.
One of the best things a parent can do to help a child who is struggling, Johnston said, is to just listen, pay attention and do their best not to minimize the problems.
“I think that’s what a lot of the kids tell us is they’re trying to tell somebody that they’re really depressed as an example and their parent, parents, guardian are saying ‘It’s all in your head, you’ll get over it,’” she said.
Wade said parents should be open to teens coming to a support group or getting help.
“Anything is going to help them,” Wade said. “Let them talk to people, whether it’s going to a support group or talking to a school counselor or you know a mentor. Just let them express themselves and their concerns.”
Signs of grief and depressions in teens:
- Lack of concentration
- shock, numbness
- avoidance and retreat
- constant thoughts of the loss
- jealousy aimed at those who have what you do not
- confusion and feeling disoriented, feeling in a fog
- declining grades
- loss of interest in usual activities
- over-activity, acting too busy
- wanting to be alone a lot
- deep sadness
- drug and/or alcohol use or abuse
- eating to much or too little
- risk taking behavior
- self-destructive, anti-social or criminal behavior
- thinking about suicide
- somatic manifestations of grief
List provided by Mental Health America of Licking County.