Students Struggle With Depression — And With Telling The Story

Eva Rosenfeld and Madeline Halpert wanted to write about depression in their school newspaper, but officials said no. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with the students, who want the issue out of the closet.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Many subjects that were once considered impossible to talk about are now dinner table conversation. The taboo of mental illness can still be difficult. Eva Rosenfeld and Madeline Halpert are high school students who are editors of their school newspaper in Ann Arbor, Mich. They wanted to devote an issue to their struggles and those of fellow students with depression. But the school said no, citing privacy rights and concern for those students who might participate. So, Eva Rosenfeld and Madeline Halpert wrote a piece that appeared in the New York Times. They join us now from the studios of Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor. Thank you both very much for being with us.

EVA ROSENFELD: Thank you for having us.

MADELINE HALPERT: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you both in turn. My gosh, from your high school newspaper to the New York Times. Why was it so important to write this?

ROSENFELD: Well, the stigma around mental illness is super prevalent. And Madeline had come forward to me about her depression. She was able to talk about it totally casually, and it really changed the way that I thought about my own depression. And I felt like that was a message that anyone struggling with it needed to hear.

SIMON: Madeline Halpert, why did you think it was important to talk about it?

HALPERT: I also shared my experiences with Eva, and it felt really amazing to be able to talk to somebody about it. And I think that it's great that there are so many professionals to talk to, and, you know, your close friends. But it's really not the same as talking to somebody who understands exactly what you're going through.

And so our intentions were to try and get the word out and say, you know, if you have a mental illness, there's no shame in that. And you can talk about it, and we can be there for each other.

SIMON: Students don't talk about depression among themselves?

HALPERT: I think they do. But I think often, they don't come forward and say they have it, which makes it harder to find people to talk to who understand what they're going through.

SIMON: We contacted the Ann Arbor Public Schools. They say in the statement, they support your desire to bring an awareness of mental illness to students in the school, and parents and the whole community, but just not in the student newspaper. How do you feel about that?

ROSENFELD: We respect their opinion. We completely understand that there is privacy issues, and that the students well-being is in their hands. And they felt like they didn't want to do anything to risk it. And we do understand that there are negative consequences. We understand there are positive consequences as well, and we felt that those positive consequences were - they outweighed the negative consequences.

You know, with the people who had articles written about them - their parents signed a consent form. We didn't out people. They outed themselves. And we consider those individuals to be strong individuals - I am one of them. And I know that I could handle the negative repercussions.

SIMON: Let me ask you a question, Madeline Halpert. The Ann Arbor Public Schools said they had concerns that students who might participate in the special issue that you had in mind might be comfortable with it now, but might not know the repercussions of it down the road. Isn't there a difference between feeling fine with it when you're 17, and then 10 years later, perhaps, regretting the fact that you identified yourself this way when you go to apply for a job or somebody Googles you?

HALPERT: I think that definitely somebody might regret it, but I would most certainly not regret it. I know for myself that I would not want to work in a place that would discriminate against somebody for having a mental illness.

SIMON: Well, is it always just a matter of discrimination?

ROSENFELD: Well, here we are showing - putting a face on depression that is high-functioning people. It just goes to show that depression, although it can be crippling, doesn't necessarily mean that you're any less of a productive human.

SIMON: What kind of reaction are you getting from friends, from people in the community?

ROSENFELD: We've gotten a really positive reaction from the community. Lots of people are coming forward and saying they think we're very brave for doing this. Many people contacted us to say that this article really resonates with them, even that it's given them the courage to talk to someone about depression or any other struggles that they weren't able to talk to people about before.

HALPERT: And I think, most importantly, it's opening a dialogue. So, we got over 200 comments. There were negative comments. There were positive comments. But the most important thing is that it's so amazing to see people discussing this and finally opening up about it.

SIMON: Eva Rosenfeld and Madeline Halpert, who are editors of the student newspaper at Community High School, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROSENFELD: Thanks for having us.

HALPERT: Thank you so much.

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