By Julia Fairclough
All you do is mooch off me every day," the father growled, gripping the wine glass and waving his free arm while his son cowered in the corner of the kitchen. "All you do is eat and play games. All you do is sit around the house. I'm not made of money, you know. Awww...just get out of my sight!"
Sadly, for some teens, this is a familiar scenario. Most don't know how to talk about problems at home, and instead seek relief from alcohol and drugs. Or else they bury their feelings and isolate and become depressed. That is why members of the Somerville Positive Forces (SPF), a student group that works to prevent and address issues involving substance abuse, are creating a public service announcement (PSA) about depression in teenagers.
"Are you going to cry now?" taunted Craig Leach, who teaches TV and media production at Somerville High School. Leach was playing the father. Dylan English, a junior, who played the son, walked off the set. It was a take. It was a chilly Tuesday afternoon in the high school library, but the atmosphere was warm with enthusiasm.
"We (through the PSA) get to show people that although there is a problem with depression, there is a solution," said Sabrina Ozit, 16, who helped to collect the data from a 2007-2008 Somerville High School Health Survey about depression, which the group used for the PSA.
The depression rate at Somerville High School is slightly higher than average, Ozit explained-at 31% versus 27% nationally-as she thumbed through the report.
"We are the kids who understand (high school depression) more than adults, so we can offer realistic solutions," Ozit added. "Depression is beneath the surface, but a good friend would notice it and suggest that the person tell a counselor. Now that I've been in SPF, I realize that it's everyone's problem, and how to get help."
The PSA entails a collaboration with Somerville Community Access Television (SCAT)-via its Next Generation Producers program-under the direction of Daniel Marques, SCAT's youth media and membership coordinator and Prince Charles, the programming coordinator and youth media instructor. The PSA brings viewers through the scenario of verbal and substance abuse, which can lead to depression and it offers three hot line numbers and how sufferers can receive help. It will will air in late March on Channel 3, on SCAT's media Web site, www.saymedia.blogspot.com and on the Next Generation MySpace page, www.myspace.com/nextgenerationproducers.
The group gathers information from local resources, such as the school health survey, that would be beneficial to the community, said Lovelee Heller, the group advisor and Somerville Cares About Prevention employee. "It's the students who lead the process and choose the topics." SPF is a subgroup of Somerville Cares About Prevention.
SPF will also create a PSA about marijuana abuse, another timely topic. According to the health survey, 2008 rates of substance abuse among high school students is similar to 2006. Cigarette use increased from 14 to 15% between those two years, and marijuana use from 19 to 21%. However, rates of substance abuse were lower in Somerville than in Massachusetts as a whole, according to the report (comparing 2008 to the most recent 2005 state data).
For example, alcohol abuse among teens is at 48% statewide, but 37% in Somerville. Likewise, binge alcohol episodes were at 27% statewide, versus 21% locally. Tobacco use is at 4% statewide, versus 2% at Somerville High School, and marijuana use at 26% and 21% retrospectively.
Twenty five percent of students reported being verbally or emotionally abused by a family member and 13% have witnessed family violence, according to the survey.
Deepikah Bhargo, a junior, joined SPF because as an older sister preventing and educating about abuse issues is near and dear to her. "There needs to be communication between parents and children, which is why we want to educate everyone," she said. "There are many misconceptions about there, such as 'everyone drinks.' Not everyone does drink, but we need to educate those who do."
A few steps away, Jingni Chen, a senior, worked the camera. This is her first time working with film. Who knows, maybe I'll continue, she mused, her attention then caught by a quick burst of laughter amongst the crew as they finished another take.
"I went through some depression during my freshman year," Chen continued, when the crew took a quick break. "So I understand how it feels. It was hard for me to talk about it to others, aside from my sister. So I want to show others out there that you can talk to other people."
Senior Paulo Gutierrez, who was working the microphone, enjoys getting to know other students who he would not ordinarily encounter in the halls of the high school. He found he enjoys working on a group project.
Leach appreciates that the PSF students are stepping forward to be role models. It is more meaningful to hear how to get help for depression from a peer. It elicits a stronger message, he said.
"I love how the project is youth development focused," Heller agreed. "They look at issues in the community where they can have a positive impact, which makes for more strategies in how to reduce underage drinking and substance abuse in their community. They have great ideas."
Marques and Charles both enjoy their roles as teen program coordinators. The students are curious, creative and full of ideas. They embrace learning how to conceptualize, direct and film."It's a great thing to be a part of, to impact their lives and expose them to video," Marques said.
In December 2008, SPF conducted its "sticker shock" program by working with local liquor store merchants to put special stickers on multi-pack alcoholic beverages and on liquor store bags. The 15,000 stickers reminded adults that they should not provide alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. Stores were given the option of displaying a sign with the same message in their windows or at their checkout counters.