Student organizer Antonino Calarco stands by one of the student art pieces illustrating interpretations of teen depression. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Silent depression no more with mental health advocate Harmony Brown

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  • March 28, 2012

Students, staff and special guest Harmony Brown came together on March 22 at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School to raise awareness about an often neglected issue — teen depression.

“There is a fear with admitting you have a mental illness,” Brown said to about 100 attendees.

Brown told the students that her battle with depression began at age nine, when physical abuse at home ended her “picturesque” early childhood.

“It was at that age that I began to have suicidal thoughts,” said Brown, now 36. “What I knew was I was in a terrible place and I wanted out. At nine there didn’t seem like there was a lot of other options.” 

At an information session to educate parents about the indicators, risks and treatments for depression, Brown shared her family’s battle with mental illness. Her bi-polar father and schizophrenic brother both committed suicide.

“It was mostly a private battle because of the stigma,” which only prolonged the suffering, Brown said.

Alcohol, drugs and promiscuity became coping mechanisms for Brown as a teen. By the time she graduated from university, her monthly substance bill exceed her rent.

“I thought I could do this on my own and I scraped by,” said Brown, who finally sought help two years after losing her father.

“I had to admit I was depressed.  That was the first step to my recovery.”

To help parents recognize depression, Brown identified several factors that can trigger mental illness in children and teens. Biology, personality traits, genetics, environment and traumatic events were the most common. But Brown stressed that, while these all contributed to her struggle, they’re not an exhaustive check list for depression.

“You don’t need to have all these factors to have a mental illness,” said Brown, adding that because depression varies in severity it can be hard to identify.

Student organizer Antonino Calarco, 16, said he knows first hand the importance of early recognition of depression. He began to have mood swings in Grade 4, but was fortunate that his mother sought help for him. Now he’s trying to provide the same for others who may be struggling alone.

“I notice a lot of parents — not my mom she caught on to me right away — may not notice the signs because mental illness varies so much. A lot of the time you don’t see it,” Calarco said.

“I think by statistics most people keep it to themselves. A lot of kids these days, my friends for example, they could just do without having the ridicule and everything that is associated with it.”

Although their situations differ, Calarco and Brown share a common objective: awareness.

“What we’re doing here is helping to break the silence,” said Brown.

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