Depression in teenagers and how to embrace mental health awareness

On Thursday, Jewish Family Services, and with one of its programs, Tara’s Closet, are hosting a discussion on Mental Illness as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, which is May. Titled “Embracing Possibility for Mental Health Awareness: A Conversation with the Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy,” it’s scheduled for Thursday evening at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, and will feature former U.S. Representative Kennedy and be moderated by Jenna Bush Hager. The evening will also feature a speech by a local high school student, 17-year-old Jenna Polidoro, a senior at Suffield Academy, who will detail her battle against depression.

Jenna said her symptoms started around sophomore year of high school, as she was transitioning to Suffield Academy. Jenna was used to studying hard, and working hard at playing water polo, but said the transition was still difficult at times.

“Coming from a family that’s very high pressure, getting As all the time, that as kind of hard to adjust to at first,” she said.

“She mentioned it to us casually that I might be feeling a little down and we just quickly attributed that to, you know, she did have a pretty stressful load,” said her mother Monique.

Jenna said, as her symptoms strengthened, she started to isolate herself more, in order to hide what she perceived to be a weakness.

“I think she was a little bit afraid to tell us what she was really feeling because she didn’t want to scare us,” said Monique.

“A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, it’s all in your head, just think more positive’, “ said Jenna.

Jenna was self-aware enough to know that this was more serious and persistent than a spell of situational depression, which many high school students experience.

“It’s not normal to feel like every day is the worst day ever for days on end, for years on end, for months on end,” she explained.

Eventually, Jenna sought help from a school counselor and is doing much better now. She said, despite her hesitancy to share her problems with her parents, they have become an invaluable help.

“I think what is important for teenagers to know, who are going through this, is that your parents are going to love you no matter what,” she added, “you shouldn’t feel nervous about leaning on them for support.”

Monique said Jenna jumped at the chance to tell her story publicly on Thursday, and Kim Margolis from Jewish Family Services said the organization is thrilled to have her.

“Once the word got out that Jenna was speaking, I’ve already had people calling me, texting me, emailing me, asking me is this appropriate for me to bring my 17 year old daughter to, and I said yes,” Margolis said.

“She can help others whether its parents listening to her story or children listening to her story, and realizing [they’re] not alone.”