May 21 • 03:40 AM

Positive peer pressure

Almont students help each other recognize signs of depression

April 02, 2008
ALMONT — For Kari Diaz, it's all about listening. In her role as a counselor at Almont Middle School, she listens—and hears—what young people have to say.

Over time, she's heard similar stories and concerns. Concerns she recognized as possible symptoms of depression.

"In my opinion it's a sign of the times, we have a much faster paced society now," Diaz says. "There's a lot of high stress in young people's lives.

Diaz recognized a need to do something about it—to give students tools they might need to cope. She turned to the Four County Community Foundation, writing a grant that allowed students to delve into the subject and spread the word about help and hope.

Almont Middle School 8th graders tune into presentation aimed at learning more about depression as counselor Kari Diaz runs Power Point. photo by Catherine Minolli.

"I have so many different kids come through my office and I saw this as a real need," Diaz says. "Even if it helps just a handful of kids, the project is well worth it."

The project she's referring to is a Power Point presentation put together by 8th graders Emilee Miller, Monica Lester, Matt Harris and Rachel Zender. The students delved into the subject of depression and shared what they learned with the entire student body, giving presentations to individual classes over a two-day period.

"What really caught their attention is that a lot of famous people have experienced bouts with depression," Diaz says. "They are people that you would never think had any experience with it, but they had and they had overcome it."

Indeed, the student team points out in the presentation that comedians Jim Carey and Robin Williams, singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow and football star Terry Bradshaw wrestled with depression at one time or another.

"It helps destigmatize it (depression) showing a list of people that the students can relate to who have experienced it," Diaz says. "It's a huge hook for the kids who feel this way and don't want to think they're 'crazy.'"

That's also a big part of the student presentation—letting their peers know that it's not "crazy" to experience symptoms of depression.

"The biggest message is that they're not alone and that there is help and that they're not always going to feel this way," Diaz says.

Equally important, she adds, is urging young people to talk to an adult if they think they might be depressed.

"We want the kids to find an adult that they trust and we hope it's their parent, and say 'Gosh, I'm feeling so sad and I can't seem to shake it,'" Diaz says. "What we wanted to do is open the lines of communication between parents and teens."

To enhance what the students learned during the presentation, Diaz arranged a breakfast today (Wed., April 2) that included a roundtable discussion for students who wanted to learn more on the subject.

"We hope it'll give kids an opportunity to talk about depression," Diaz says. "They might not be experiencing it, but it may be someone in their lives they'd like to help."

Diaz says she's proud of the students who put together the program, and while they learned more about depression, they also made another discovery.

"The students said 'I have so much more respect for teachers,'" Diaz grinned.

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