By Katina Caraganis
Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — Sometimes all a person needs is to know that someone is there for them.
Teenagers at the Boys & Girls Club of Leominster and Fitchburg are learning how to identify the symptoms of mental illness and to direct their peers to professional help.
The training, called the Swensrud Depression Prevention Initiative, was developed by Boston Children’s Hospital and is being offered free to teenagers in grades 9-12. So far, 11 teens have taken part in the training at the club.
Leo Gonzalez and Laura Jenny are two members of the Boys & Girls Club who received the training. Gonzalez, a 10th-grader at Sizer, a North Central Essential Charter School in Fitchburg, said his high school is accepting of all kinds of students, no matter their background.
He wanted to learn how to be more supportive to classmates.
“You always try to comfort someone you see having a bad day, but you don’t always know how,” Gonzalez said. “This really showed me how to identify depression and point them in the right direction to resources and an adult who can help them find a therapist or whatever else they need.”
Jenny, a 10th-grade student at Leominster High School, said she’s seen a lot of her best friends and family members struggle with depression. She saw this training as a way to help.
“As a kid, you don’t always know how to help out. The training really showed what we can do to help kids and what resources we can go to,” she said.
Staff members were also trained.
Arthur Baxter, director at Copetraining in Fitchburg, is working with the Boys & Girls Club to provide training to staff, students and their parents. He’s held training sessions for the staff already and has trained a number of students as peer leaders.
Executive Director Donata Martin said kids often feel more comfortable talking about their problems with their peers, which is why the club felt it was so important to have peer leaders. She said she came up with the idea to provide training on mental-health issues and depression in the fall, but said it became even more important after a 12-year-old who had attended the club committed suicide earlier this winter.
Isaiah Climons, a seventh-grader at Sky View Middle School in Leominster, took his own life in December.
It is important, said Baxter, that they try to decrease the stigma around depression and mental illness. He said suicide is the third-leading cause of death in children between the ages of 15-24.
While there will be peer leaders at the club for other kids to talk to, Baxter said it’s important for those leaders to remember they should never feel like they have to shoulder everyone’s problems themselves. He said each staff member is there for them to talk about what they’ve heard and how they can help other students.
“We always have someone here for your kids to talk to. Don’t feel like there isn’t anyone here for you to talk to,” Martin said to a group of students and their parents Friday night. “Kids should never feel like they are alone here.”
The SHINE Initiative and funds from Fidelity Bank paid for the training. A training session for parents has been scheduled for the first Wednesday in February at the Boys & Girls Club in Leominster.