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Teen Depression: More Than Sad

How one film helps tell teens' stories of depression

It's hard for a lot of adults to understand the difference between being a teenager—with constantly shifting relationships with hormones, social circles, and sources of support - and being a teenager who is dealing with mental illness. A film produced this year by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention helps break down what being a teenager with depression can really mean. Aimed at educating teens about signs and symptoms of depression in themselves or friends, as an adult, I found the film to be a good reminder of why experiencing depression truly is being "more than sad."

"More Than Sad: Teen Depression" tells the stories of four teen characters who are struggling with depression.

Lana's mom tries to be sympathetic, but when her daughter can't just "snap out of it," she becomes frustrated.

Ray is experiencing an abnormal degree of anxiety that contributes to feelings of depression.

Jake's use of alcohol exacerbates his anger and short fuse, which alienates him from his friends.

Delia, living in a rural community, thinks she is connecting with a boy she likes via e-mail, but in fact is being mocked and bullied by peers from her school. What happens next makes her feel ashamed and even more isolated.

Through the stories of these teens, the film challenges stereotypes some might have about the types of young people who experience depression. The film shows "good" kids—boys and girls who are getting good grades and have solid friendships and relationships with their parents - struggling with depression right alongside kids with fewer of these positive elements in place. The pressures illustrated in the film are realistic, and each teen's response to the events of his or her life rings pretty true with what real teens think and feel.

The film also offers a long view by telling us what happened to each of these teens after they got help, going into detail about what worked and what didn't, from medication to therapy to changing schools.

Most importantly, as a prevention message, the film tells us that depression can be treated and where to start to get help.

AFSP will be producing a second film, "More Than Sad: A Guide to Preventing Teen Suicide," aimed at educating teachers and other school personnel about adolescent suicide.

When asked about what kind of film to show in a classroom to raise teens' awareness about suicide prevention and help teens seek help, I often refer people to the list developed by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), which scores films about suicide based on appropriateness for different audiences. "More Than Sad," because it is about depression and not suicide specifically, is supported by AAS through a list of "Videos of Interest." I'd encourage anyone who's curious about what films might be appropriate for audiences with which you're working to check out the list.

Copyright 2009 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved