Kids talk to kids about depression
The Erika's Lighthouse Club at New Trier gives a panel presentation to a group of graduate social work students from Loyola University. | JACKIE PILOSSOPH~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 6:08AM
WINNETKA — When Lizzie Armstrong was a freshman at New Trier High School, she had a friend who suffered from depression, and said she and her friends didn’t really know how to deal with it.
“We felt guilty for not noticing at first, and then we didn’t know how to talk to each other or to our parents about it,” she said. “We had no resources.”
Armstrong, now a senior said this was the driving force that led her to become involved in the Ericka’s Lighthouse Club at her school, which is one of several clubs that partner with Erika’s Lighthouse, the Winnetka based organization that raises awareness about teen depression.
Peggy Kubert, LCSW has been the executive director of Erika’s Lighthouse for six years.
“Our role is to help kids know this is something you can get through and you shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed to go ask for help,” said Kubert, who is also in private practice for adolescent and family therapy. “We try to break down the sigma that surrounds depression, and we make sure people understand where help is available in the community.”
Erika’s Lighthouse was started by Tom and Ginny Neuckranz in 2004, after their eighth-grade daughter, Erika, struggled with depression and took her own life.
“After Erika died, her family and friends realized you could lose a child or a friend from an illness that no one knew how to talk about, and that’s really how Erika’s Lighthouse was born,” Kubert said.
Erika’s Lighthouse is a non-profit organization with five employees, a nine-member board of directors, 14 executive council members, and dozens of adult and teen volunteers. The organization also has a professional advisory board and members at large.
Then there are the Erika’s Lighthouse teen clubs and panels at Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Evanston, Wheeling, Prospect, Hersey, New Trier, Maine East, Riverside Brookfield and Regina high schools, and North Shore Country Day School. Many other Chicago metro area schools are trained in the teen panel programs.
“A group of kids who were Erika’s friends, who now go to New Trier started the clubs,” said Heather Steward, Director of Programming and Communications for Erika’s Lighthouse. “The mission of the clubs is to give kids a chance to advocate for this cause, educate kids on what the warning signs are, and do it in a way that’s hopeful and easy to absorb.”
“We speak to local middle schools and high school classes,” said Armstrong, who is now on the teen panel and who is the co-president of the New Trier Erika’s Lighthouse club. “We teach kids what to look for and our biggest goal is to bust the stigma surrounding depression. Having depression doesn’t mean you are weird or weak, it’s a temporary struggle that you can overcome if you have the courage to go get help.”
“Depression is an imbalance of the brain,” said Ana Porta, a senior at New Trier, who also serves as co-President of the club, as well as on the teen panel. “It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It’s not something you can control without help, but it’s treatable.”
Porta said the goal of the panel’s presentations is to help students realize that if they are feeling depressed, they shouldn’t just live with it, they can reach out for help and it will give them a better quality of life.
Erika’s Lighthouse is funded primarily through donations from individuals and small community grants, including New Trier Township.
“We have so many people who really believe in what we do and who are so generous with their support,” said Kubert.
“What makes us different from other organizations is the hopeful message we put out there that’s not dark and gloomy, but that lets people know there’s help and hope and having it come from kids is in and of itself amazing,” said Steward. “To see another kid just like you, who is telling you it’s going to be okay is incredibly powerful.”
To learn more about Erika’s Lighthouse, visit: www.erikaslighthouse.org.