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TCU middle schoolers hear firsthand account about living with depression
Le Center Leader - 2/20/2018
One in five Americans has a diagnosable mental illness, whether it's depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. Two thirds of those individuals are not seeking help, which leads to an increased chance of dying by suicide. Approximately 40,000 suicides are reported per year.
David Romano, a speaker with the national nonprofit organization Active Minds, shared these statistics at the beginning of his talk to TCU Montgomery Middle School students Tuesday, Feb. 13. A Duluth native, Romano silently battled depression during high school. He now he travels around the country as an Active Minds speaker to share his story and promote mental health.
Romano's talk was an eye-opener for seventh-graders Henry Schendel and Emily DeGrego. What surprised them most was that so many people who have depression keep it to themselves.
"You can't take this stuff lightly," said Schendel. "It's a big deal, and it's pretty emotional."
Said DeGrego: "[I learned] when you don't ask for help, it just piles up. You can tell your parents, and if your friends have depression, you can ask if they need help."
Romano told the students he recently completed the first solo bike across America for mental health from San Francisco, California, to Washington, D.C. His trek involved intense weather conditions, being chased by animals and laborious uphill pedaling.
"I got scared and felt alone on the trip and wanted to give up, but I realized this was a physical representation of what the struggle with mental illness is like," said Romano.
Romano's battle with depression began before he knew the meaning of the word. Looking up to his tough and reserved father and older brothers, Romano viewed his sensitivity as a negative trait. Feeling inadequate, he stifled his emotions.
"I felt like every word, every action had to be perfect in order to feel adequate," said Romano.
In a 10th-grade health class, Romano received a list of depression symptoms and identified with such signs as trouble concentrating, losing interest and isolating. He showed the paper to his mom, and though the two of them were puzzled by the possibility that he might have depression, a doctor confirmed it a couple weeks later.
Discouraged when therapy and medication didn't fix his problems right away, Romano gave up treatment and quit all the extra-curricular activities that helped him cope with depression.
"Finding the right treatment is like dating," said Romano. "You're not necessarily going to marry the first person you date, and the right treatment may not be the first one you try."
During his junior year of high school, Romano said his grades plummeted, he got arrested for stealing, abused substances and attempt suicide. But what scared him the most that year was admitting he had depression and needed help.
A turnaround happened for Romano when he was called to his high school counselor's office. With Romano's dad in the room, the counselor told him, "Everything's going to be OK, and we're going to get you help."
Romano said that was the first time he felt a glimmer of hope in a long time and also the first time he saw his dad, who he thought of as "Superman," cry.
"I realized then what it meant to be resilient, to be a man," said Romano. "That courage to be vulnerable is one of the toughest things you can do."
Although Romano made a breakthrough his senior year in seeking out treatment, depression followed him to college and took ahold of him until a professor got him back on track with the words, "You're not alone."
"I want to make it very, very known that I still struggle, but it's OK to not be OK; it's OK to struggle," said Romano. "If you're out there silently struggling, find that strength to reach out. I promise you, if you reach out to somebody, somebody will reach out back."