Addressing Adolescent Depression: How a Village Can Respond to Newtown

by Joanne Steele on December 18, 2012

Newtown, CT memorial

Please take a moment to share this post with friends and neighbors. It’s time to take action and I’m not talking about gun violence.

This is the time of year when I love to post something merry and holiday oriented. But right now, nothing feels right. As a former teacher and parent of four wonderful, now adult children, my thoughts turn to Connecticut and the suffering people in Newtown. They are trying to cope with their tragedy while keeping the Holiday for surviving children of this senseless massacre.

We all want to do something to stop the violence and we can.

I am not going to talk about guns.

There are things we can do that don’t involve laws or politics or differing beliefs. We can look at how to address the underlying cause of this problem, and address it locally, in our small towns and medium sized cities.

In his book Columbine, Dave Cullen drills into the personalities and problems of the two perpetrators of that tragedy. He, along with many researchers, has determined that we cannot profile mass shooters, but we can identify some key characteristics.

The one we can do something about on a very local level is clinical depression among young people. Cullen discovered that The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force estimates that 6% of U.S. adolescents suffer clinical depression. That’s 2 million kids!

Think about the size of your local middle school and high school. 6% of those kids are likely suffering from depression. Do the math.

Of course, every depressed child or adolescent doesn’t shoot up his school. But many resort to suicide. In my rural area, I personally know of 4 families that have been ripped apart by teen suicide in the past 20 years!

We can do something about adolescent clinical depression.

I’m pleased to say that you, my readers, are among the smartest, most resourceful people in your communities. You know how to get things done, and addressing this issue is something worth your time and effort.

Dave Cullen has provided links to resources at Teen Depression 101.

Reading his material and listening to him talk about his research indicates that this will take a village to address. Kids want and need our help, but the last people they will go to are their parents!

We cannot push this off on the schools and be done with it. The schools may be the focal point of a community-wide effort, but it will take us all to identify the children in need of help, and to make certain that the help is available.

Clinical depression is a terrible thing. It is not something that a child can “snap out of.” It is not something that a family can handle alone.

Please read through Dave Cullen’s material and talk to your local school about how you can get involved in identifying and getting help for clinically depressed kids in your community.

It’s the best Holiday gift you can give to your friends and family, your town and your country.

AP photo by Jason DeCrow


1 barbara marden December 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Thank you Joanne for a most meaningful topic. Agreeing with Kathy Wallace, you are right on target and so is she. The focus : What can we give our kids? has slipped from loving, conscious guidance to the material -Even a university degree cannot be a substitute for moral leadership and I don’t refer here to a few “commandments” or regulations.. I suppose a “task force” is the way we deal with big challenges today;however, I’m thinking of gardens that have gotten so overgrown with weeds that the remedy may need to be administered at a much more personal level.
Whatever we can do, we will. I will read Dave Cullen’s material and we will see what comes next. .

2 Joanne Steele December 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

This garden needs attending at all levels. I focused on small towns because in a small community you can get your arms around a problem in a way urban dwellers are helpless to copy. But, in order NOT to create islands of sanity in a sea of dysfunction, we need national leadership as well – thus, a letter or two or ten at

3 Margo Christensen December 22, 2012 at 9:42 am

Hello Joanne,

Teen depression and the lack of mental health services, is exactly the issue. My small town of Prescott (in rural Northern Arizona), had two teenage suicides this fall at the high school. My 16 year old daughter knew both of them. The day of the Newtown tragedy, a teenager pulled a prank stating an armed man was on the way to the high school causing the school to go on lock down. Yesterday, another prank caused the Prescott police to spend the day at the high school guarding the kids on the last day of finals. Stress, anxiety, fear, anger and depression in teenagers is out of control and unfortunately, available treatment is sparse. Our mental health industry is ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the current demand of patients in need of treatment. It is a crisis.

4 Joanne Steele December 22, 2012 at 9:49 am

Hello Margo,
I think we all need to send Pres. Obama and Vice P. Biden an email suggesting that another task force is needed. I’ve noticed that in talking about this tragedy, teen depression is on the list. Unfortunately ranks low enough in the dialog that you can be certain that if parents and teachers don’t step up, it will be lost as we debate the issue of guns.

5 Kathy Wallace December 22, 2012 at 8:38 am

Thank you JoAnne, as always you are right on. And the root of this problem is “why are our kids having such difficulties. In my generation it was alcoholism – that was the big buggaboo. Today it is so much more complex. Do you have information on violent video games – is this a part of what is happening?
Or is it just that our society is becoming so materialistically me, me, me that we are not giving our kids the attention and love they need?
And third, our media coverage has to stop, and I noticed this was less with Newtown. Hopefully that will continue.
I read a British blog and they are just astounded that this keeps happening. It seems to them that there is an attitude in America that we just don’t “care” enough to make a change.
Thank you again for the insight.

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