McLean: 'A Generation in Pain'

McLean: 'A Generation in Pain'

McLean High School senior wins national journalism award for combating depression.

David Kagan, 17 of McLean, won a national award from the Quill and Scroll International Honor Society for High School journalists for individual in-depth reporting on teen depression.

David Kagan, 17 of McLean, won a national award from the Quill and Scroll International Honor Society for High School journalists for individual in-depth reporting on teen depression. Photo contributed

Who To Call for Help:

In emergency situations (24/7)

CSB Emergency Services, 703-573-5679, TTY 711

CrisisLink suicide hotline, 703-527-4077

CrisisLink suicide text hotline, 703-940-0888

Fairfax Detoxification Center, 703-502-7000, TTY 703-322-9080

Call 911 for a life-threatening emergency

During business hours:

CSB Entry & Referral Services (To schedule a mental health assessment), 703-383-8500, TTY 711

Fairfax County Public Schools Intervention and Prevention Services | 571-423-4020

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)

See for a free online youth suicide prevention program geared for laypeople.

See for a link to the county’s Mental Health First Aid information and class registration, designed for adults who want to know more about issues affecting youth and how to help.

First in an occasional series on youth and adult mental health and county services available to them.

McLean High School magazine journalist David Kagan didn’t know the power of depression when he started to research his article “A Generation in Pain” for McLean High School’s Highlander magazine.

“I was aware it was something students dealt with,” said Kagan, 17 of McLean. “I didn’t know it was this serious.”

In fact, almost one third of all high school seniors in the county reported experiencing symptoms of depression, according to a Fairfax County Youth Survey regarding mental health.

In addition, 37.5 percent of female students in Fairfax County schools reported feeling so sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row during the last year that they stopped doing usual activities. One in five male students reported the same, according to the survey.

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) provides behavioral health services for children, youth and their families, as well as for adults. These include services for serious emotional disturbance, mental illness, substance use and co-occurring disorders for children and youth from birth through age 18. For more information visit

About 20 percent of emergency services at the CSB is devoted to serving youth 11 to 20 years of age.

“We want to make sure that kids and families see that there is no stigma attached to receiving mental health services,” said Jim Kelly, manager of emergency services at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board.

KAGAN’S CLASSMATE wanted to share her story in the student run magazine to help others, he said.

Kagan wrote that his classmate’s “daily routine isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“She wakes up at 6:30 every day, eats breakfast and is soon on her way to school. [She] melts into the crowds of people in our hallways. She goes unnoticed for the most part, save for her close friends.

“She walks through the halls, periodically putting on smiles to make her friends stop worrying. It’s a normal day for [her], just as it is for most students at McLean. What’s not normal, however, is that [she] is struggling to save her own life.

“What’s not normal, however, is [she] is fighting to save her own life.”

-- David Kagan, 17, McLean High School

More than 22 percent of female students reported that they had seriously considered suicide during the past year and 11.2 percent of male students reported the same, according to the youth survey.

KAGAN WON a national award from Quill and Scroll International Honor Society for High School journalists.

His entry won for individual in-depth reporting judged by professional journalists.

His article was about public service.

“Our goal,” said Kagan, 17 of McLean, “is to keep writing a lot about issues that impact our students, the hard hitting cases.”

All Fairfax County high schools and middle schools have links on their websites, alerting them to crisis numbers and links that they can call. Even elementary schools alert families where help can be sought.

The Texting Hotline is the most used method students reach out for help.

“That’s the type of technology they are comfortable with,” said Kelly, of the Community Services Board. “They are bolder and more forthcoming about what is going on.”

“We have students texting, ‘I’m worried about my friend,’” said Marcy Johnson, UMFS vice president for programs.

“I’m pleased we’re getting third party referrals,” she said.

One in four eighth grade students reported having symptoms of depression, according to the youth survey.


A walkway leading to the football field for Langley High School’s Feb. 7 candlelight vigil commemorating the deaths of two seniors.

EMERGENCY SERVICES at the County’s Community Services Board Center is staffed with 42 clinicians with the ability to treat people in nine different languages, said Kelly.

They even have a mobile crisis unit.

“We go to schools, churches, wherever the individual might be, a bus stop, a street corner,” Kelly said.

“We’re here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said.

“We have folks that are ready to engage with people there in our lobby,” said Kelly. “From the get go, we’re establishing rapport and making sure there is no stigma attached to receiving mental health treatment.”

Fairfax County Public Schools offer a curriculum to teachers to learn to spot warning signs and to know where to help students find help.

Approximately nine thousand teachers took the training during this past year.

“By talking about it, by demystifying it, we make treatment more accessible,” said Mary Ann Panarelli, director of FCPS Department of Student Services and intervention and prevention services.

“We know part of the response is having adults in your community that you feel care about you and you are willing to talk,” said Panarelli.

Students and their friends face stress throughout the community, she said.

“I hate that they don’t know and are struggling by themselves,” said Johnson, who helped start the Parent Support Partner program in Fairfax County. The program matches parents learning to navigate the mental health system with other parents of children with behavioral, emotional or mental health needs who have successfully navigated the mental health system with their own family.

AN EIGHT-HOUR Youth Mental Health First Aid program is available through the county that can help family members, caregivers, school staff, health and human services workers who work with youth understand mental illnesses, seek timely intervention and save lives.

There is also a free one-hour online youth suicide prevention training that thousands in the county have already taken. See

“If we can increase the number of people that can respond,” said Johnson, “at the end of the day, everybody is a lot safer.”