Liz Allen: Erie family walks to save depressed teens
Kara Pollard — a graceful dancer, an accomplished painter and a talented singer — was a staunch advocate for human rights. Once, she walked barefoot at McDowell High School to raise awareness about shoeless Third World children. She looked forward to spending her senior year as a foreign-exchange student in Thailand.
But on April 28, shortly before her 17th birthday, Kara died from an overdose of antidepressants. "She hurt enough to say, 'I don't care if I don't wake up,'" says Mary Pollard, Kara's bereaved mom.
Mary and her twin sister, Michelle Carnegie, and their parents, Bob and Shirley Hubert, are reaching out to other families to say that clinical depression, an illness, can be treated.
When Kara first talked about being sad in eighth grade, Mary thought it was just puberty. Now Mary wants to banish the taboos that make it hard to open up about depression and seek help.
Since Kara's death, the family has been comforted by the community's outpouring of care and concern. Still, they worry about some responses. Among the many flat stones inscribed with messages and left at Kara's grave is this one: "SOS, Kara. Please help me."
Erie County has resources to answer such cries for help, including Erie County Crisis Services at 456-2014, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill at 456-1773, and Stairways Behavioral Health, which sponsors two-day Mental Health First Aid seminars, at 464-8495. The support group P.A.L.S. (People After Loss from Suicide) can be reached at 864-2428.
Youth depression is a problem everywhere. In the past 30 years, adolescent suicide has increased by 400 percent, according to Joe Markiewicz, co-project director of the Center for Organizational Research and Evaluation at Penn State Behrend.
A 2007 survey reported that 35 percent of Erie County students said they were sad or depressed on most days; 24 percent said that "life is not worth it," according to Markiewicz. "In some school districts, almost one-half of the student body is sad or depressed. That means that 50 percent of the kids that walk down the hallway have so much personal baggage they can't do their academic work. Socially, they aren't functioning; they aren't getting involved with activities."
Through the Healthy Youth Development program, General McLane and Strong Vincent high school students have developed leadership programs to make school "a more positive place to go" and to counter peer pressure that might add to depression, Markiewicz says.
With help from a website created by Ronald Pollard, Kara's dad, Kara's family has already raised about $2,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Their team, KareBear, will join other teams on Saturday for the foundation's annual Out of the Darkness Walk. Registration starts at 9 a.m. at Presque Isle State Park's Rotary Pavilion.
Kara's family hopes the fundraising walk will steer those suffering from depression toward help. They don't want other families to walk in their shoes.
LIZ ALLEN writes about ordinary people each week. You can reach her at 870-1735 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.