Erika’s Lighthouse: A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression is determined and dedicated to providing high-quality classroom-based programs to raise awareness and understanding of depression and suicide awareness. The goal is to promote help-seeking behavior – to ensure teens locate and receive the support they need to thrive.
In this effort, it is our responsibility to connect with as many different types of students as possible. As such, diversity and inclusion are mainstays of our programs. We know that visibility and representation matter. “…The inclusion of people with diverse backgrounds, ideas, and methods of teaching and learning is an educational imperative. Such inclusion simultaneously (1) creates more equitable opportunities for students from marginalized groups to participate in… education and (2) promotes the kinds of outcomes for all students that employers and society need, such as complex thinking skills, the ability to work across difference, increased civic participation, and decreased prejudice” (Thomas F. Nelson Laird, 2014; National Leadership Council 2007).
Our work is not simply a matter of ensuring best practices are followed in our programs. It is about reaching the populations that need to hear our message the most. We know that certain populations are at higher-risk for depression and suicidal ideation. We must be reaching them – both by where our programs are utilized as well as the representation available.
One of the most at-risk populations is the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning community. For a variety of reasons, this particular population experiences higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Between 30-60% of LGBTQ individuals experience anxiety or depression at some point in their lives, a rate that is 1.5-2.5 times higher than their heterosexual counterparts (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Transgender youth are 5 times more likely to experience depression than their non-transgendered peers (Human Rights Campaign).
According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are 3 times more likely to contemplate suicide than their heterosexual peers and 5 times more likely to attempt suicide (NAMI). Roughly 50% of these youth have seriously contemplated suicide; a rate that is wildly unacceptable. While rates for transgender youth are unavailable, 40% of transgender adults have not only contemplated, but actually attempted suicide.
Mental illness does not discriminate. African-Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress (Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health). But, their challenges don’t stop there. Only 30% of the African-American community receives mental health support, compared to the US average of 43%. Even further, the CDC recently reported that suicide rates have risen 56% for teens across all ethnic and racial groups from 2001 to 2017; and for African-American adolescents, the rates have risen 60% for males and nearly double for females.
While there are many factors for the reduced rate of care; representation, awareness and education are undoubtedly gateways for accessing necessary support.
The impact of community violence, as both a victim and witness, can have troubling effects on youth. A number of studies have linked experiencing community violence to depression and other mental health challenges. “..Being a victim or witness of community violence is a predictor of psychological distress in urban youth, especially depressive symptoms, anxiety, post-traumatic stress (PTS), and aggression (McDonald and Richmond 2008).”
“Exposure to community violence has emerged as an independent risk factor for problems such as depression, posttraumatic stress symptoms, suicidal behaviors, and aggression and violence in youth, as well as negative biological and hormonal developmental problems” (Lazman & Swisher). In addition, “Singer and colleagues found exposure to community violence to be significantly associated with depressive symptoms in a sample of high school students, controlling for demographic variables” (Lazman & Swisher).
While Erika’s Lighthouse programming is focused on reaching as many youth as possible – it is vital that these key populations are represented, recognized, and supported in our school communities. Studies have indicated the challenge of “minority stress” as a leading cause of suicidal thoughts and depression in youth. But there is hope – only one supportive adult, not just a parent, could reduce the likelihood of sucide by 40%. That could be you.
As educators, social workers, parents and other caring adults, we cannot ignore the realities facing today’s youth. Some conversations may be challenging, but that is the point of education – to expand our world view and explore new perspectives.
While diversity and inclusion are worthy goals in and of themselves, the real goal is to ensure our youth, all of them, receive the support and education they need and deserve. No child, regardless of who they are, should feel alone in their depression.
From the desk of the Executive Director: Brandon Combs, MNA
Tips and Talking Points
We recognize that everyone comes from these perspectives with a unique and worthy viewpoint, so here are a few talking points that may be helpful:
Addressing Gender Identity in the Classroom
One of the young people featured in The Erika’s Lighthouse High School Program shares his story of how his struggles with his gender identity were a source for his depression. While this is made in a passing comment, we recognize that this may prompt uncomfortable conversations in the classroom. If you are uncomfortable engaging in a dialogue, we encourage you to redirect the discussion back to depression and remind students that everyone is different. Tell students, “We can all be susceptible to mental health challenges. You may not relate to him, but is there a student in the video that you do relate with?”
If redirecting is ineffective, ask the student to have a private conversation with you or your school’s licensed mental health professional. The goal is to educate and inform students about depression and suicide awareness.
Addressing Community Violence in the Classroom
While the topic of community violence is shared in the video, it is mentioned in passing as a source of depression. However, we encourage you to be prepared with appropriate trauma-informed language if you feel the topic could cause unneeded stress or anxiety among students.
If A Student Approaches You for Support
There may be instances where a student approaches you after class for a one-on-one conversation or support. Every teen needs a trusting adult to speak with and, depending on the circumstances, you may or may not be the appropriate person. Regardless, ensure the teen is ok and assist them in facilitating an immediate conversation with your school’s social worker, counselor or mental health professional.