A Word or Two on Addressing Depression
There are some topics and conversations that (whenever I engage in them) always leave me feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I know everything that’s going to be said, I can foreshadow every turn and argument that’s going to be made in the course of the conversation, and (unfortunately) I can predict how the persons I’m speaking with are going to misunderstand every point I’m trying to make. The topic I’m talking about is the issue of self-esteem and depression, and I’m learning that trying to have a genuine conversation (not just a feel-good pep talk, or a melancholy cry-fest) about such things usually goes nowhere.
The topic of depression lies fairly high on an educator’s list of concerns (okay, maybe I need to say that it ought to be a high concern), as we are expected to at least try and foresee if a student is having problems that warrant professional help (after all, throughout their week, kids spend more time in school than any other single place, hence we teachers are purview to more of their daily state of mind–and shifts thereof–than any old casual acquaintance). My problem is that the methods school administrators are looking to provide us with to address these issues don’t sound all that efficient in dealing with the underlying concerns of the topic.
As of late, bullying has been trending pretty high on everyone’s radar; not least of all school faculty and staff. Thus, as is to be expected, this morning’s faculty meeting dwelt into the topic of bullying and depression, and our roles in what to do (and what not to do) to make the school campus a safe place for all its “inhabitants” [My term, not the schools. I just like how it accentuates the caged atmosphere of high school for all parties involved ]. From what I gathered at the meeting, the way we’re apparently going to create this safe space is by giving out surveys to the students, asking them to list and rank various aspects and concerns that they have. Then, going by the responses, we will–in some unspecified way–determine which students appear to be at a higher risk for depression. At first glance, this sounds like a decent proposal; yet, on further reflection, the whole thing sounds overly simplistic. I get that it’s better than doing nothing, but wouldn’t it be better to simply set-up within the school network the proper health services for the students to–confidentially–turn to if they need help or advice on anything in their lives (I know some schools already have this, but many still don’t). Because there are a lot things about a generic survey that leave the door open for unnecessary misunderstandings and dilemmas.
For one thing, the whole process is so impersonal that I don’t see why anyone would be willing to truly open up to a blank piece of paper like they would to a person seating in front of them (remember, a lot of people who have spent a long time living with their depression are often rather good at knowing what responses will keep others from probing too deeply into what are obviously too sensitive matters for them to discuss freely). My second issue is that some of the survey questions are too misleading to give a good enough reading of the student’s state of mind. For example, one of the questions asks the survey-taker to rank her/his appearance as Below Average, Average, or Above Average; the first answer is listed as indicating depression, and the last answer as a healthy level of self-esteem, however, the middle answer (the “Average” response) is listed as indicating a reasonable risk of early depression. Huh? Recognizing that you’re average looking means you have low self-esteem, and that you’re at risk of depression? I’m average looking. I am not depressed. Most people are average looking, and they are not depressed. The notion that time and energy is to be allocated on the basis of a far-off, pop-psychology hunch (thereby diverting an already limited resources of time and energy away from individuals who actually need the attention) just seems like an inefficient and asinine way to go about seriously dealing with this issue. Again, I’m personally convinced that a better route would be to invest in developing the necessary health services within the school network–make it part of the educational system–and treat each student in response to the problems and concerns they bring forward, instead of trying to guess and match who has what problem through the wisdom of a self-diagnosed pop quiz.
These are the exact points are raised at the faculty meeting. Apparently, I didn’t do such a good job explaining myself, because the feedback I got was a bunch of non sequiturs about how “teachers need to go the extra mile.” Yeah, I agree. Now tell me something I don’t know. In fact, I’m the one calling for a cure to be manufactured for the ailment, while you’re sitting around hoping that placing a band-aid on the skin will stop the internal bleeding. Detecting a problem is pointless, if there is no framework set-up to efficiently resolve it thereafter. What part of this is hard to understand?