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April 20th, 2009
The Film
Exploring the Emotional Lives of Teenagers
Edie Magnus, Executive ProducerEdie Magnus, Executive Producer

Dr. Chris Lucas, head of child psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine, says it best:

“People only seem to pay attention when there is a major event and when a large number of kids die suddenly together. Whereas kids are dying all the time through gun violence or…though suicide, and there is not much attention paid to that.”

This is precisely how we began to pay attention to all the unheeded cries for help:  it was just after the massacre at Virginia Tech, where so many young people had died suddenly, that we began researching teenage mental illness and rage. Soon, the bigger story came into focus:  All over America, kids were dying by their own hands in far greater numbers than those killed by an enraged school shooter.  Experts we spoke to characterized this as two sides of the same coin: violence turned inward, or unleashed upon others.  Both are the end result of a terrible path that too many kids are on – and one that few of the adults in their lives recognize or understand.

In the nearly two years since we started looking into adolescent mental health, we’ve interviewed scores of experts on depression, anxiety, anger and teen suicide. We entered chat rooms and left postings on a number of Web sites devoted to these topics – and are grateful to the many young people who reached out to tell us their stories. Of the many statistics included in Cry for Help, there is one that stands out: that young people experiencing mental illness like depression and anxiety can go for many years (estimates range from 6 to 23 – which obviously puts them well into adulthood) before they are diagnosed and treated. That’s a lot of silent pain and suffering going under the radar.

Increasingly, schools across the country are feeling compelled to get a handle on the mental health of students. In Cry for Help, we were afforded extraordinary access to two high schools trying two different approaches – which we followed in real time throughout a school year. One of these schools was Hamilton High in Ohio, which had lost four teens to suicide in less than a year’s time.

To us, it seemed the school was using the “It Takes a Village” approach to help students in the wake of the suicides, and to encourage them to open up about their own issues. Teachers, administrators and counselors at HHS volunteered to take part in a series of initiatives that were direct and personal — to find students in emotional pain, to assure them they were not alone, and to offer time and resources to get them additional help if necessary.

The other school we profile is Clarkstown North High School in New York, which launched an equally ambitious effort to reach young people where so many of them now “live” — online. The program allows teens and their parents to seek out information anonymously through a special mental health and suicide prevention Web site.  The theory here is that rather than trying to find the few kids most at risk (which the program’s creator, a New York psychiatrist, Dr. Lucas, likens to finding a needle in a haystack) the goal should be to improve the mental health of the entire student population. In other words, the rising tide lifts all boats.

A young woman named Stacy Hollingsworth gave us invaluable insights into what it feels like to be severely depressed and hide it from the outside world.  Her parents were like so many others:  they thought they knew their child.  The lessons they learned and Stacy’s own account of her journey to the brink of suicide and back are important for anyone who is — or plans to be — raising a child.

There is so much that we in the adult world don’t know about what our kids are saying and feeling.  Cry for Help gives us a chance to listen, and opens a window into their world.  Their stories, and the disturbing statistics on teen suicide, are a clarion call for all of us to start paying more attention every day.

- Edie Magnus, Executive Producer

  • Kim Tapie LISW

    In Ohio each county has a Suicide Prevention Coalition which I chair for our area. We sponsor SOS, the “Signs of Suicide”, program in our local high schools which is an evidenced based practice of helping teens to help each other, while learning the warning signs of severe depression and suicide. We also brought in, as a speaker, Bryce Mackie, whose short docudrama on suicide,”Eternal High”, has won over 50 national film awards, including the Sundance film festival award for teens under 18.
    Bryce is a dynamite presenter especially for teens, as he is still young, and teens can relate to his story of fighting depression and suicide.
    Google “Eternal High” for more information about Bryce. Bryce is currently filming his second movie about his experience with being recently diagnosed with Bi-polar disease. Bryce is one brave young man that everyone should meet.

  • eileen Lebegue

    As a prior Social Worker, mother of two young adults, and someone who has experienced Depression (Dysthymia) herself I would like to applaud Thirteen for always being in the forefront for educating the public Depression effects not only the individual, but it impacts the entire family structure. It is imperative that parents take a long hard look at their teens or pre-teens even if they are “doing well” in school. Perhaps the teen that gets decent grades, has some friends and participates in extra-curicular activities is more difficult to “read” than the teen who begins to withdraw to his/her room with crying, bursts of anger, or hours of silence. When a teen becomes disinterested in activities he/her liked before, never invite friends over stop and listen! A red flag for depression would be finding out that your teen is not “fitting in.” An absence of friends, a sudden drop in grades, sleeping or staying up for hours on end, are all signs that a parent needs to explore. With both parents working today we have latchkey kid/s whose parents return home late, tired, and preoccuppied with their own responsibilities. It is a difficult situation all around.
    The competition in school and with ones peers is fierce. The pressure to excell academically, socially, and in sports to be “a wimner” is put on these kids by their teachers, parents, and themselves. Competition is good but not everyone can meet with success in everything. Inferiority sets in, other teens pick up on weakness, and often reject them. While the others are having the time of their lives in High School there is a group that feels ostracized, hopeless and alone. They get lost in the shuffle and see suicide as the only way to end their pain. It is a tragedy, the ultimate loss. Yesterday’s “leave it to beaver” family sitting around the dinner table discussing their day is not the norm anymore. Family members become isolated from one another; a breeding ground for lonliness and depression. I noticed when my children began to withdraw after we moved several times in a very short time. Roots had be swept away and friendships had already been sealed by the time we moved in the middle of the year. That would have been different if my son was a natural athlete and not a nature/Science enthusiast. Bully’s started coming out of the woodwork. Scapegoating, rejection, and physical and emotional teasing existed on a daily basis. Emotionally it almost destroyed me to see my children go through this. I sought help immediately and although they will always have scars, putting each of them in therapy with the correct amount of medication, literally changed their lives for the better. Their ego’s were not strong enough and the time and they grew up with a genteel/non macho father. I want to stress that I sought help with the guidance department, principal, child study team, and some incredible teachers who made me feel that i was not alone. Battling my own depression in addition to helping my young teens get the help they needed and deserved has made me a stronger individual. I would like to end by saying my young adult are doing very well now. Although they will always have scars they have walked through the fire and they like themselves today. My son just completed his Master’s degree in Biology and my daughter is studying to become a teacher for children with learning disabilities. I enjoy my work and remain grateful everyday. I commend your great work in bringing awareness to this crucial issue. Thank you,

    Sincerely,

    Eileen L.
    parents educational documentariesforefront of excellence

  • Esther

    Thank you WNET for this much needed documentary. Ironically, this airs tomorrow and on Sunday, May 3rd our community will be hosting a play called “Bang Bang, You’re Dead” which is a fictional school shooting were the deceased return for answers. It deals with teen violence, suicide, depression, bullying, anxiety and more. These amazing young actors wanted to be the “voices” of those that can no longer be heard. Our lovely Jersey Shore has been mourning for a little over a year the deaths of so many of our teens. Sadly these kids do not realize that when they take their lives, they take with them a piece of their parents, friends, neighbors, teachers and community. This place is about “YOU CANNOT REWIND LIFE – MAKE GOOD CHOICES OR BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES.” Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.

  • Francisca Evans

    Thanks to Channel 13 for this program. It reminds me of the hard times I went thru as a teenager dealing with consequences from making the wrong choices and just life as it is. I rarely talked to my parents about my depression and crying all the time. I am now a 41 yr. old married mother of a 16 yr. old and I remember the different emotional issues I went thru from 16 yrs. old until I was in my early twenties. Thank God I never took the step to harm myself but the suicidal thoughts were there along with depression and low self esteem. Although I am free from these thoughts now, at times I am concerned about my kids, especially the 16-yr. old. I talk to her alot about my mistakes and encourage her to make wise choices, trust God for guidance and when hard issues come she will be strong enough to come out of them victoriously and learn from her mistakes. I’m planning to sit with my children and watch this. Thank you!

    P.S. I would like to ask Esther (#3) the information of where this play “Bang Bank, You’re Dead” will be playing. I would like to try and make it to Jersey Shore to see it with my children. I would be traveling from New York and my email address is Shiloh2003@live.com. Thanks

  • Esther

    I had a meeting tonight so I’m on my way to view it. Francisca “Bang Bang You’re Dead” is a play by William Mastrosimone, Directed by Ralph Colombino. It is playing this Sunday, May 3rd at 7pm at the Manasquan United Methodist Church for more info you can e-mail fbcmanasquan.juno.com. Thank you so much for your interest and hopefully others deal with this head on and not try to pretend it doesn’t exist. I will also send you the flyer in a moment. Yes, getting our children to open up to us is key. Sadly so many, for whatever reasons, don’t know their kids. WE MUST MAKE THE TIME.

  • Kimberly Hacktt

    A long time ago, parents, teachers and city officials realized they had a problem – that children can’t and don’t learn when they’re hungry. It was in 1853 when the Children’s Aid Society of New York City began the movement to offer hot meals at school for children who might not eat again that day. We realized then that children can’t grow and learn when they’re physically hungry. Now we are realizing that children don’t grow and learn well when they are emotionally hungry.
    By only emphasizing left brain (academic) work, we neglect and invalidate the deep human work of being and feeling. This they must do on their own, in their spare time, without adult support, mentoring or guidance. From the parent side, it is like sending your child off to school without lunch or money, expecting he/she will somehow get fed that day. From the school side, it is assuming each child is being fed, or worse, ignoring the truth, that many students are going hungry each day.
    That is a haphazard approach and puts all children emotionally and developmentally at risk.
    Children and youth need to be emotionally fed, supported and need opportunities to practice the art of being them – in school.
    Some are lucky. Some schools are beginning to pay attention and make changes, while most still insist that academics are what school is all about.
    Developmentally adolescents have one job – to answer the “who am I?” question. “Becoming” is what children and adolescents do and if we neglect the emotional and creative aspects of becoming for a menu of left brain work, we grow a child who is unbalanced and unhappy.
    Creative social emotional learning curriculum must be in all schools (CSEL). What is CSEL? It is time offered in school for students to explore, process and express what is going on emotionally and socially. It is for all students, not just those who are already at risk, in trouble or following tragedy. It is preventative but more importantly it is essential developmentally.
    We must feed our children so they can learn. Take a look at my blog where I write about adolescence and the need for CSEL here and now.
    adolescentwork.wordpress.com

  • MARY AGNES ARMBRUSTER

    PLEASE KEEP UP SUCH GOOD WORK -AS YOU AND THE OTHERS ARE DOING – IT IS SO NEEDED TODAY – THANK YOU AND I KNOW THAT GOD DOES THANK YOU ALSO – FOR VIOLENCE HAS TO STOP SOMEWHERE AND LIFE IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT – LIFE AND AUTHENTIC LOVE – SINCERELY MARY AGNES

  • Lori

    is there a website for ALL kids to go so they know they’re not alone? With teenage issues..to talk to other teens? Please let me know.. Thanks

  • Viviana Kippel

    Not sure about inserting yourself in front of the purchase someone is already making, isn’t that unethical??

  • Dominique Tamimi

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