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A powerful look at depression, suicide

Video shows real teens talking about real problems _ and how to get help.

Every 1 hour and 45 minutes, a parent loses a son or daughter to suicide.

Every single day.

As part of a national strategy to educate kids about the depression that often leads to this deadly outcome and to prevent teenage suicide, the PBS-produced video Depression: On The Edge is being distributed to high schools across America.

With the blessings of the U.S. Surgeon General and the White House, under a grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the American School Counselor Association has distributed the program and discussion guide to guidance counselors at 14,000 high schools around the country, to use in and out of school. The MTV-style production has a Real World feel, as teens confronting depression discuss their problems, feelings and methods of coping. Clips from a Third Eye Blind concert and comments from band members add to the hip factor.

We first meet lip-pierced Andrea, who reveals some shocking statistics about suicide ... enough to get me to listen.

Then students in Pierre, S.D., explain how they deal with the pressures of being teenagers and their struggles with depression. Pierre, population 13,000, was chosen because 14 teenagers have committed suicide there in recent years. Several teens who have suffered from clinical depression describe how they felt like nobody liked them, that nobody could help them and that everything was wrong.

We follow the teens' narrative through the video, first understanding their problems and then seeing how they got help _ one girl told her friend, who told a teacher who then made the girl see a counselor.

The kids on the videotape seem like the people you see at school, so it is easy to relate to. Along with sharing the ways the kids feel, how they deal with their problems and what they think, the tape offers facts from doctors and counselors about depression.

Something that really stood out to me was when a girl said there is a fine line between every day blues and depression. When you're depressed, you don't have the motivation to pick yourself up anymore; you just feel like you can't keep going.

Depression is something plenty of teens struggle with. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-19. It's the third leading cause of death for people under 25.

The program takes a close look at Kelsey Bartel, who is coping with her own depression and her brother's suicide. Everything is so very real that I think the video has a good chance of making a positive impact. There are a few clips in particular that could make a person with depression realize that he or she needs help, and inform them of good ways to get it. The video emphasizes that depression is not unusual, and that there are many ways for a person to get help.

I think the attention-grabbing program will be successful with students because it is something they can actually relate to. I've seen too many things at school that are trying to inform us of a serious issue but they're just so boring, no one even listens. There's no such problem with this program.

Pierre has experienced a cluster of suicides, so the things the teens say are certainly from experience. They've all been down: over the loss of a classmate, family member, boyfriend or girlfriend. When a suicide occurs, the risk of additional suicides increases, so it's crucial to take notice of everyone after a suicide.

Third Eye Blind performs its song Jumper, and the band members talk about the lyrics relating to suicide. Members of the group discuss how they each handle depression. Yes, even famous people with lots of money suffer from depression.

I think even if someone didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the beginning of the video, the end definitely will catch the viewer. The program was excellent, but I have this suggestion: It would have been good to go into more depth about how students can recognize depression in other students.

Becky Tyrrell, 13, is in the seventh grade at Burns Middle School in Brandon.

Get the video for your school

If your school is not one of the 14,000 to have received the video, you may e-mail the name of your school and guidance counselor and school address to: SueCastleinthemix.org. There is a limit of only one video per school. For more information about the depression tape and other specials produced by In the Mix, check out this Web site: http://www.inthemix.org.

GRIM NUMBERS

Suicide accounts for 31,000 deaths caused every year in the United States, 50 percent higher than the number of homicides.

Since 1952, the suicide rate among adolescents has tripled.

Since 1980, the rate of suicide among persons ages 15-19 years increased by 14 percent and among those ages 10-14 years by 100 percent.

Up to 60 percent of high school students report having thoughts about committing suicide.

Risk factors for suicide among the young include the presence of mental illness, especially depression, conduct disorder and alcohol and drug use disorders; a previous attempt; and the availability of firearms in the home.

Sources: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jason Foundation.

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