In a bright, cheery classroom students are buzzing as they prepare for the beginning of class. Many of the teens might be happily chatting, texting, or goofing around – however, at least a few are trying their best to pretend to be happy, while others are outright withdrawn because they are secretly battling depression. 

These young people may not know how to talk about what they are feeling, may not be comfortable talking to someone or, even worse, may not even recognize what they are feeling is not normal. There is hope for these adolescents.

Major depression is a prevalent disorder for young people. The statistics are startling. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (2018),

  • 13.3% of youth (ages 12-17) experienced major depressive disorder in 2017,
  • suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 24, and
  • over 6,000 youth died by suicide in 2017. 

Further, Pew Research Center’s February 2019 study found that 70% of young people see anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers.

Research continues to show a strong link between youth depression and risk of suicide attempts and completions. Still, despite these startling trends, many young people do not seek or receive the mental health treatment they need and deserve to treat their depression, increasing the chance that their depression might escalate into suicidal ideation (NIMH, 2017). 

In an effort to reduce the rising rates of depression and suicide, there is a growing focus on using depression education as prevention in order to increase the knowledge youth have about depression and suicide risk, to build their capacity to identify trusted adults who can help them and their peers, and to increase the help-seeking behavior of depressed youth.

Classroom Programs: A Piece of the Puzzle

Depression is one of the primary mental health issues associated with suicide, and many youth report that stigma presents a major barrier to seeking help for depression; with that, education in schools is viewed as a key component in preventing youth suicide. By offering depression education as a primary prevention strategy for youth and addressing depression through school programs, a larger segment of the youth population can be reached. Current research indicates that the more youth and school communities can learn about depression, the more likely it is for the stigma around mental disorders to be reduced and, in turn, for students to seek out help from trusted adults for themselves and their peers. 

Erika’s Lighthouse: A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression is a nonprofit organization that develops and distributes free and flexible depression and suicide awareness classroom programs for middle schools and high schools. What distinguishes these programs from other established suicide prevention programs is that results can be realized with only 1 lesson and the video-based lessons are driven by an authentic youth voice from real and diverse teens. The teen-oriented classroom programs are designed to be implemented by any school staff who want to bring these conversational and hopeful programs to their building. 

Independent program evaluations conducted in 2014 and 2016, along with a published article in January 2019 on its original high school program, showed promising results. 

Teen Empowerment: Peers Leading Peers

Another way to combat stigma and promote help-seeking for teens is through generating positive, inclusive peer conversations. In this way, teens can take a leadership role in changing their school’s culture to be more inclusive, empathetic and open. 

Erika’s Lighthouse addresses this through Teen Empowerment Clubs and Depression Awareness Campaigns designed to generate thoughtful, positive conversations surrounding mental health. Teens have the power to change the world when empowered and equipped with the right tools. Teen clubs around the country are utilizing existing resources and creating new ones that work within their schools. All of them are rallying behind the slogan Get Depression Out of the Dark

Teen clubs offer activities that promote help seeking behavior, reduce stigma, educate about mental health, embrace empathy, recognize individual journeys and advance understanding and conversations. Every youth is impacted when one of their peers is struggling and it is everyone’s role to communicate that no one is alone and everyone deserves help.

We recognize that every student is different and every classroom has different needs. Our educational materials are geared toward students and educators, allowing for as much modification as any teacher needs. 

We don’t want you to have our conversation. We want to help you have yours. 

Kristina Kins, MSW, Director of Program Development & Operations
Brandon Combs, MNA, Executive Director

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