Mail Call: More Than Just Being Moody

"Young and Depressed," our Oct. 7 cover story, resonated with readers of all ages. "It struck me right in the heart. You could have been telling my story," said a now happily married woman in her 20s. But several letter writers disagreed with what they think of as a rush to prescribe pills as treatment: "What message are we giving kids when we tell them their problems can be solved by taking a pill?" Many readers agreed that medication often proves beneficial, while some offered their own antidepressant alternatives, including talk therapy, religious beliefs, stable relationships with caring adults, physical activities, a healthful diet and "good old-fashioned sunshine." One woman urged parents of troubled teens to get help for themselves as well, while another dismissed the idea of teen depression altogether: "Most children are going through what we all went through in the days before Prozac. It's called growing up."

Diagnosing Depression

I am glad that teen and childhood depression are showing up on the radar ("Young and Depressed," Oct. 7). My husband and I both have fought depression since our late teens, and it was no surprise that three of our four sons have had problems with depression as well. However, your article was also frightening, and led me to wonder if depression will become the diagnosis du jour whenever a child is not "fitting in" at school, much the way thousands of children were misdiagnosed with hyperactivity and given strong medication in the form of Ritalin. Because there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for depression, perhaps the place to start is with less-invasive therapies of exercise, talking and herbal supplements. Prescription drugs should be used only when other remedies have failed.
Kathy Brown
Santa Maria, Calif.

I cannot thank you enough for shedding some very overdue light on this disease. I went through a rough time from my last two years of high school through my first two of college. I was suicidal, didn't come out of my dorm room and was in tears most of the time. To this day, my mother doesn't understand what I was so upset about. But I got help, and in those instances when everything seems hopeless, I am no longer suicidal and tell myself it is just a temporary setback. What a relief to know that there is help out there and teens don't have to deal with this horrible disease on their own.
Jennifer M. Kirk
Raleigh, N.C.

As a 40-year veteran of teaching high-school seniors, I wonder if a reason for so much teenage depression might be that life just can't deliver what the greedy media convince youngsters it should.
William J. O'Malley
Bronx, N.Y.

I am a clinical psychologist who treats depression, so I was pleased that you brought this complex issue to light. I am disappointed, however, that although you mentioned some of the skills children typically lack that can make depression even more formidable for them, you did not offer readers an awareness of the specific skills that children (and adults) can learn to help reduce and even prevent depression. These include social, problem-solving and coping skills. But getting well-educated professionals, much less the public, to think in terms of prevention and skill-building usually takes a back seat to the power of our attraction to simplistic drug solutions.
Michael D. Yapko
Solana Beach, Calif.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps the sudden onslaught of teen depression might have something to do with the medical profession's and pharmaceutical industry's deciding it to be so? Everyone from school counselors to adolescent psychiatrists has something to gain by diagnosing children with mental disorders. Children are a vast, untapped market with endless revenue-generating possibilities. If a kid is depressed, maybe he or she ought to be. Maybe they need to learn to cope and work through their problems rather than being socked with a "happy" pill of some sort.
Kim Pettry
Charleston, W.Va.

I would urge anyone whose child has the stated symptoms of depression to get the child a complete physical, including a sleep study, before resorting to a psychiatrist. The warning signs for obstructive sleep apnea mimic the warning signs for depression. OSA is a condition in which the patient stops breathing periodically during the night, causing a lack of oxygen to the brain, headaches, exhaustion, mood and behavior changes, and depression. It can occur at any age and is highly treatable.
Lisa Lippitz
Bourbonnais, Ill.

Our knowledge of child and adolescent depression has moved from ignorance in the '70s to denial in the '80s and acceptance in the '90s. As your article suggests, the level of understanding is far greater now, even among the public, than it was 10 years ago. Nevertheless, I would like to underscore the profound shortage of professionals. The number of 7,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists you quote does not represent the number who are willing to see difficult cases. Also, many cases of child and adolescent depression have more than one disorder present, such as oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disturbances and attention deficit disorder. These cases cannot be dealt with by a primary-care physician, family physician or psychologist alone. The need for trained child and adolescent psychiatrists is a crisis that needs to be addressed. Without such professionals, parents can do little.
Norman E. Alessi, M.D., Professor
University of Michigan Medical Center
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Thank you for the eye-opening article on teen depression. One thing not mentioned in the article that parents can do is insist that school-health curricula include a unit on mental illness, with emphasis on depression. Teens themselves need to know how to recognize signs of depression in their friends and themselves. Knowledge and recognition of mental illness as a legitimate health issue will make treatment more acceptable.
Steven Greenfield, Executive Director
Mental Health Association of Nassau County
Hempstead, N.Y.

For many years adults have been concerned about young people's behavior. Now we have become more aware of their depression. Could it be that young people are mirroring the world around them (some with negativity and violence, others with depression) as their brains try to process the daily news, adult-made TV shows, videogames, etc.? Maybe we could say that their young brains are actually working well--seeing adult behavior for what it is: depressing.
Sylvia Lambert
Interior, S.D.

Go Ahead, Speak Your Mind

How refreshing to hear Todd Werkhoven encourage people of all views to honestly think for themselves ("I'm a Conservative, But I'm Not a Hatemonger," my turn, Oct. 7). There surely must be many out there with genuinely open minds. Here's to original thinking and intelligent debate for a better America.
Carla Nickodemus
Traverse City, Mich.

As a black, republican, Christian male, I'm sure one can imagine the names I've been called. Growing up, I was taught --indoctrinated--to believe that Democrats were the only party a black man should support and that all conservatives were prejudiced, backward and white. Not only was this untrue, but I found that liberals didn't represent my deepest personal views on religious beliefs, traditional family values and personal accountability within my home and community. Those in my community with similar beliefs elicitimmediate scorn and incredulity by those who defend liberal agendas. In our increasingly politically correct society, unpopular or dissenting speech, ideas and writings--the very things that define us as a free nation--are in danger of being outlawed in the free nation.
Daniel D. Cole
Rock Hill, S.C.

Todd Werkhoven's My Turn article bemoans the fact that some liberals refuse to listen to or accept his point of view and often resort to name-calling. However, I have been called a communist simply because I am a Democrat, an atheist because I am not a Christian, and I don't voice my views on gun control because of the reactions I get from NRA members. I hope to God (in whom I fervently believe) that we can stop the name-calling and realize that, to have a true democracy, people must be allowed to express their divergent views without intimidation.
Sarah H. Thomas
Springfield, Ill.

You can't have an intelligent discussion with someone like Todd Werkhoven, who still thinks homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice."
Annabelle Nunez
Tucson, Ariz.

The Agony of Ecstasy

A generation ago many viewed cocaine as a "great high, low risk" drug, until evidence to the contrary became overwhelming. Today similar evidence is beginning to pile up with regard to ecstasy ("A Worry for Ravers," Oct. 7). More and more Americans are learning--some the hardest way--that ecstasy carries grave, sometimes fatal, health risks. But the scariest thing about this drug is how much we still have to learn about its long-term effects. After the myths about cocaine gave way to facts, its use plummeted; in fact, cocaine use is down more than 70 percent since 1985. We can only hope that as we continue to learn the facts about ecstasy, and that as more parents talk with their kids about its risks, we'll see a similar trend with regard to this dangerous drug.
Stephen Pasierb, President, CEO
Partnership for a Drug-Free America
New York, N.Y.

You make important points about the danger of ecstasy. But as a drug-free raver, I resent the comments about ecstasy users' being "the club kids who keep the rave scene going," and about cracking down on party promoters. Not all ravers use ecstasy, and many promoters and DJs use raves as an honest source of income. While drugs are a problem in the rave scene, as with any scene involving a large group of teenagers, many discussion groups and nonprofit organizations have been formed by the ravers who party and dance without the assistance of club drugs. Many kids go to raves for the love of music and dancing. Not all ravers are drug users.
Julia Lech
Atlanta, Ga.

Continuing the Debate on Iraq

I thank Anna Quindlen for expressing what many of us here in the Denver suburbs have been saying all along ("Baghdad and Battling Pols," Oct. 7). Why can't we get a detailed explanation of "why Iraq must be attacked at this particular moment"? I am not for this war, nor do I know anyone who is. The pollsters have ignored us, although I have called several times to express my opinion to my representative in Congress. Quindlen asked some very good questions--ones I would like to have answered before I support a war of any kind. My friends and I see the war as a political ploy, and I will not vote for anyone who supports it.
Virginia Wilkins
Lakewood, Colo.

Anna Quindlen writes, "To hell with the polls... [When] some 20-year-old who joined the service to get an education [dies]... pollsters will ask if it was worth it." I take offense at this statement. As a 16-year-old, I understand clearly that when you join the service, you are not there to "get an education." You are there to defend the American people. And, to put it bluntly, you are there to kill people if necessary. In wars, people die. It is a tragedy, but that is why we have a military to do the fighting for us. The armed forces are not a social experiment.
Victor Berrizbeitia
Hershey, Pa.

Divestment Against Israel?

Thanks to Jonathan Alter for his well-reasoned article "A Question of Anti-Semitism" (Oct. 7). It is true that Israel should adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward the Palestinians and that we should encourage it to do so. But in light of the wave upon wave of senseless and brutal murders of innocents by the Palestinians, Israel's hard-line position can be understood to some degree. Perhaps America's college students need a few more years under their belts to view the situation with more clarity.
Carol Blanc
Vacaville, Calif.

In his Oct. 7 piece, "A Question of Anti-Semitism," Jonathan Alter argues that a national divestment campaign against Israel features "willful obtuseness about the world" and possibly anti-Semitic effects. Instead of recognizing the campaign's viable concerns against specific and general abuses of international law and human rights of the Israeli state, he characterizes the campaign as thick-skulled, careless and romantic. The campaign's aims are not naive. Rather, they mimic those of the South African antiapartheid divestment campaigns of the '80s and those of the U.S. government: peaceful promotion of human rights and equality. The divestment campaign does not threaten the existence of Israel, only its violent policies.
Sean Riordan
San Diego, Calif.

Although I am not one who would support a divestment campaign against Israel, I do take issue with the notion that the higher standard applied by many Americans to Israel's current policies as opposed to those of Syria and the Palestinian Authority suggests anti-Semitism. Americans pay more attention to Israel's actions because we are Israel's greatest ally and financial supporter. As voters, we share some responsibility for Israel's behavior.
Keith Campbell
Arlington, Va.

Know Thine Enemy

" 'I yelled at them to stop' " (Oct. 7) was a well-done piece. As an eighth-grade history teacher, I am constantly reminding my students that we must learn from the mistakes of the past. It seems, though, that the top brass at the Pentagon have failed to remember the lessons we learned from Vietnam. One would think that Donald Rumsfeld, of all people, would remember that the purpose of our Special Forces is to wage unconventional war against opponents using unconventional methods, and that those methods take time. The Special Forces were recast in part because of the mistakes we made trying to fight a guerrilla war in Vietnam with conventional foot soldiers (with all due respect to our 82d Airborne). Why, then, when we know how to fight the kind of shadow war we are involved in in Afghanistan, are we making the same mistakes? Perhaps our military leaders should listen to what our Special Forces have to say.
Thomas Kersey
Columbus, Ohio

I am disappointed by the tenor of and the allegations in Colin Soloway's article 'I Yelled at Them to Stop'." Soloway based the bulk of his story on "after the fact" interviews with a few Special Forces soldiers who claimed the 82d Airborne troops were heavy-handed in their dealings with Afghan villagers while searching for enemy troops and ammunition. Soloway was not with the forces on this particular operation, and when he brought his claims to us, we worked hard to provide him with additional information, including interviews with senior leaders and details from our own investigation. The investigation included statements from Civil Affairs soldiers (who are part of Special Forces Command), who refuted the allegations. Soloway chose to accept the perception of a small group of soldiers over the evidence we gave him--including stories from other reporters who accompanied the operation. Soloway also reports that Gen. Dan McNeill was "reportedly dressed down [by Donald Rumsfeld]... for failing to capture more 'high-value targets'." However, the only "dressing down" McNeill received from Rumsfeld was for speaking too loudly during a video teleconference. For the record, our troops are in the field to prosecute the war against Al Qaeda, and they will continue to work as a team until they get the job done.
Col. Roger King
U.S. Army
Baghram Air Force Base, Afghanistan

C'mon, Keep the Ump

Your article on using electronics in baseball left me astonished ("Umps Call Foul," Oct. 7). Is the world moving at such a fast pace that we are now attacking America's favorite pastime? The QuesTec Umpire Information System does not back up the call of the umpire but rather shows whether he is "wrong" or "right." But what will baseball be if it is all mechanics? Half the fun of going to a game is to root for your team and call names at the umpire who strikes out your favorite batter. If we develop a system that does away with the umpire, perhaps we will develop a system that will do away with the players.
Michelle Goodman
Richmond, Va.


In "The Rap of Luxury" (Sept. 2) we should have identified a new brand of $40 cigars as Zino Platinum.

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