Web-only article from "First Responders for Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3(2)
About Vancouver Coastal Health
VCH is responsible for the delivery of approximately $2 billion in hospital, residential and community health services to more than one million people in communities throughout the North Shore, from Richmond through Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, the Sea-to-Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Mirror, Mirror, an original drama produced by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the Youth Theatre Action Group, raises the curtain on the sensitive subject of teen depression.
The goal of the play is to better inform youth and parents about teen depression and drugs and to act as a springboard for family discussion. Depression, suicide and drug use are serious concerns among youth. By taking this approach, we’re shifting some of our efforts to prevention and early intervention—reaching out to teens and children before the fact, rather than after the fact, when youth are experiencing significant mental health and addiction issues and need treatment.
Youth depression is a significant mental health issue in Canada. Statistic Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth reveals that young people reported more symptoms of depression as they grew older, with 24% of 16- and 17-year-olds reporting symptoms of depression, compared with 9% when they were 12 and 13.1
In BC it’s estimated that about 15% of children and youth suffer from a range of mental health issues. Among these, 2% suffer from mild, moderate and severe depression, as well as bipolar and major mood disorders, which can include thoughts of suicide.2
Peer based approaches are an innovative way to reach a large audience of youth—with a prevention message—to reduce their risk of developing mental health conditions requiring intervention. Last year, VCH used a similar theatrical approach, Meth Express, to highlight youth involvement with the street drug, crystal meth.
Mirror, Mirror is a collaborative theatre project involving 13 theatre students from Kitsilano, Templeton, Ideal Mini and Vancouver Technical secondary schools. The teen performers mined their own experiences with depression—both personal and those of family and friends—during a series of workshops, to form the foundation of the script.
Teen depression is a sensitive topic for both youth and their parents, says theatre group member Meghan Roche, a grade 11 student, who has not experienced serious depression herself, but has known other teens that have.
“Most people aren’t comfortable talking about depression, but this project has taught me ways to cope with friends who are going through it,” says Roche, a student at Templeton. “I’ve learned that depression is about being stuck—first you have to recognize you’re stuck, then you have to figure out how you got there and where to go for help.”
A series of interconnected scenes, Mirror, Mirror tackles many manifestations of depression, including emotional detachment, codependency, cutting, bipolar disorder, bulimia and suicide. The play grapples with this difficult subject matter in a language and a ‘voice’ that gets youths’ attention.
Director Valerie Methot describes the creative process of developing the play: “The writing process for Mirror, Mirror was like building a puzzle, with each student contributing essential and unique pieces. As the pieces came together, character relationships were formed and stories deepened. My role of overseeing the writing and piecing it all together was like bringing a community together with the purpose of sharing experiences and making connections.”
Once the script was finished, the student actors engaged in a series of rehearsals and brought theatricality to the text.
Methot applauds cast members for revealing their feelings on teen depression to fellow students, parents and the public. “The youth involved with this project demonstrated immense bravery and willingness to delve into issues of depression. I hope Mirror, Mirror encourages audience members to talk about depression and seek help if they need it,” she says.
Mirror, Mirror played in February 2006 at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, Vancouver Technical School, Kitsilano Secondary School, and the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver. Mirror, Mirror has reached over 2,000 youth and their families, and will be reprised in 2007.
This production was both educational and empowering for all involved and demonstrates that art is a powerful tool in dealing with social issues. Comments from youth participants include:
“I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives the same way Meth Express influenced me last year.”
“I felt that depression was not a talked about issue and I wanted to educate people about it.”
“It taught me that almost everyone goes through it. It can be big or small, and you can’t judge people, because you can never tell what’s going through their heads.”
A joint initiative of VCH’s Child and Youth Mental Health Services and Youth Addictions, Mirror Mirror was produced with the support of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
About the authorMark is Manager, Youth and Child Mental Health Services, for Vancouver Coastal Health and is a co-producer of Mirror, Mirror
Statistics Canada. (2005, February 16). Study: Links between symptoms of depression among young people and relationships with others. The Daily. Retrieved June 19, 2006, from www.statscan.ca/Daily/English/050216/d050216a.htm
Waddell, C. & Sheppard, C. (2002). Prevalence of mental disorders in children and youth. Victoria, BC: Ministry of Children and Family Development. Also, in (2003) Child and Youth Mental Health Plan for British Columbia. Accessed August 14, 2006, at www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/mh_publications/cymh_plan.pdf