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In Prosper, Students Tackle Tough Topics: Teen Depression And Anxiety

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Stella M. Chávez
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KERA News
Prosper High School student Shaznay Hardeman talks openly about her struggle with depression and anxiety. She hopes to encourage other students to talk to someone they trust and seek help.

Twenty-five percent of teens will struggle with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. And about 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they become an adult. North Texas students and a teacher talk about the factors that fuel these symptoms and what they’re doing about it.

ShaznayHardeman thought she was just having a bad day, the normal ups and downs of a being a teenager.

The 16-year-old at Prosper High School had just found out the person she was dating was cheating on her. The pain she felt was unbearable.

“The next morning, I woke up and I was just like, 'You know what, I can’t do it anymore. And ... ' I kind of just felt like I didn’t care about anybody at that point, because nobody cared about me. You know? And ... " Hardeman  pauses for a few seconds. "And, I tried to hang myself. And so the only reason that I’m alive today is because my mom heard me beating against the door because I could not get down. And I look back and I’m like, why did I let it get to that point? Why didn't I let my guard down and my ego down, so people can know that I was really hurting?”

After that, Shaznay got counseling and started taking medication.

Sarah Feuerbacher is the director of SMU’s Center for Family Counseling in Plano. She says she's been seeing more teens.

“Whether it’s internal or external motivators, no matter what, our young people today are very, very high-stressed, high-strung, Feuerbacher says. "They are demonstrating that in just an overwhelming amount of anxiety and depression.”

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Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
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KERA News
Austin Garcia, a senior at Prosper High School, and his teacher, Brian Kennedy, are tackling tough topics like teen depression and anxiety in Kennedy's broadcast journalism class.

A group of broadcast students at Prosper High School decided to tackle the issue on the school’s morning show, "Eagle Nation News."

From the broadcast: “Today’s student often falls prey to anxiety. We take a look at how those stresses can impact the mental health of adolescents … ”

The three hosts shared their own stories, talked to Feuerbacher and interviewed other students.

One member of the class is senior Austin Garcia. He talks about feeling overloaded. He's dual credit courses to get high school and college credit. He plays baseball and waits tables at a local Italian restaurant. He usually doesn’t start his homework until 10:30 p.m. and often doesn’t get to bed until after midnight.

“Everyone’s fighting for the same spot, whether it be valedictorian or top 10 percent," Austin says. "Just anything … especially in Prosper, it’s extremely competitive here.”

Austin says he moved from neighboring Little Elm where he was at the top of his class. Now, he’s not. It’s rough, he says; there’s so much pressure.

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Credit Brian Kennedy / Eagle Nation News
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Eagle Nation News
This is an illustration from Brian Kennedy's upcoming book for children called "How to Tame Your Troll." Kennedy studied counseling and teaches broadcast journalism at Prosper High School.

Brian Kennedy teaches the broadcast class at Prosper High School. He's writing a children's book about negative thinking and incorporates cognitive behavior therapy in the story. The book, called "How to Tame Your Troll," is about a boy named Jake who is taunted by students. As he begins to internalize the negative comments he hears, a troll appears on  his shoulder and grows larger and larger until he's finally able to confront those thoughts.

Kennedy studied counseling and is a former student of Feuerbacher. He says this is an area he's very passionate about. But he notes one big difference since he was in school -- technology.

“When you have an influx of texting, of social media, Twitter, Instagram, you’re putting everything on display, and I think that really is a huge issue when it deals with depression," Kennedy says. "Not only do I have to keep up appearances physically, I have to keep up my reputation online.”

Feuerbacher at SMU’s counseling center recalls the story of one teen who was obsessed with checking her grades online. The sophomore checked after every single class.

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Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
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KERA News
Sarah Feuerbacher is the clinic director at the SMU Center for Family Counseling in Plano. She says she's been seeing more teen clients, especially since students at Prosper High School aired a piece on depression and anxiety.

“We have created a society where our children now are watching us do everything that we can to get to the biggest and best and next thing and pressure ourselves, and we’re also expecting our kids to do the same and we’re pushing them into a lot things,” she says.

Teacher and counselor, however, see at least one promising sign: the teen’s TV show itself. Kids talked openly about some tough topics – anxiety, depression, even suicide. And that, Feuerbacher says, is a crucial first step.

Watch the program on teen depression and anxiety that Prosper High School students and their teacher produced:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3hIuwA0ro8&feature=youtu.be

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.