DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In Oakland, Calif. this week, we're at Youth Radio, listening to stories about young people reported by young journalists - and this morning, a very personal story. It takes us inside the life of a Bay-Area teenager who, like many young people, struggles with depression. We're not using her name to protect her privacy. Here is the audio diary she recorded with her friends.
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO DIARY)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I've been voted class clown for the last two years in my class. I also have post-anxiety depression. (Singing) I have to record you.
Hello. How do you see me every day in class?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I see you as very excited. And you're always playful.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Every time I see you in the hallway, you're either smiling - laughing. It's who you are. And you express it to everyone else.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: It's weird because I know how I feel in the inside. And now I know how people perceive me on the outside, that I'm like this funny person, who, like, laughs a lot and all that. I don't want any of them to know that how - like how I'm feeling in the inside. So I basically hide all that with, like, funniness.
GIANNI: (Unintelligible) coming from the Bronx.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I've known Gianni (ph) ever since I could remember.
GIANNI: You know, I just want to give a shout out to all the ladies from the set. You know, we out here...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: He also has post-anxiety depression, but his is a little different than mine.
GIANNI: I don't really get anxiety attacks. But when my anxiety does build up, it turns to a form of depression with, like, suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, when the depression gets really bad, I feel like that's the only way. But I know that I can get away from it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Do you, like, talk to your parents about it?
GIANNI: No, I would really isolate myself. I wouldn't want to tell anybody that I'm upset because I kind of, like, hold myself to a standard that everyone needs to see me happy.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Considering that we have the same issues, I don't really know how to help him. Like, I want to help him. And I want to make him feel better, but I just can't 'cause how am I going to help him if I can't help myself?
I'm walking in my room and about to lock my door - close it. At home, I isolate myself. When I have my anxiety attacks, usually I lay on my back or my side. And I start to hyperventilate - inside, a lot of things just going through my mind - just a lot of bad things. Like, that's all I think about. And the more I think about it, the worse it gets. So then I usually just, like, cry it out.
They're talking. I know.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Like, do you to remember that day when we were, like, feeling, like, real bad?
GIANNI: I remember. We were leaving the school. And I'm silent.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We got out the car, and we just, like, walked. And for him, he needs to vent.
GIANNI: I don't know why this is happening. And I try so hard to try to do this and none - nothing's really getting produced.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And that's what he needs. He just needs to talk.
GIANNI: They're talking to me, and I don't know why.
To me, it's never been about finding answers. It's just been about letting it all go. It's like I've got all of these crookedly drawn lines. But once I talk to her and once I, like, clear my vision, everything starts to come together. Everything starts to make sense again.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We can either vent or it turns into, like, something way worse than it - what it should be or what it could've been.
GIANNI: When we're not OK, when we're not at our best, somebody has to bring the other one out.
GREENE: That story was produced by Youth Radio. And we did not name the young people in the piece. This is pretty sensitive stuff. I was listening to that with two people from Youth Radio. Stefan Goldstone is a social worker here. And Storm White is a 20-year-old multimedia producer. She's been working with a team of young people to build an app that addresses teen mental health. And we began with Stefan.
How common is this? How often are you dealing with teens who are sort of suffering like they are?
STEFAN GOLDSTONE: It's very common. It's probably the most common form of mental illness among people in the teenage years. It can be something that people deal with for a period - a brief period of time. Or it can be something that becomes sort of a lifetime struggle. But it's important to mediate it when it - when it first starts to happen.
GREENE: And Stefan, I know this is probably something that's hard to answer in just a few seconds but, I mean, how would you sort of address the needs of those two students we're hearing from?
GOLDSTONE: Trying to find a space to make a connection with them so that they feel safe - it sound like that happened with their ability to produce this story. But find a safe space for them to talk more about how they're feeling, and let them know that there are services available to help them.
GREENE: OK. And Storm, you have been actually working with another option that is sort of geared to helping teens like this. What - it's an app that you're working on. Tell me about it.
STORM WHITE: Yeah, so we're often inspired by stories like the ones we just heard. And we wanted to create a platform that replicates the friendship and the bond we just heard of. And so that's kind of where Mood Ring, the name of our app, come in. It's an app that allows young people to track how they're feeling using emojis.
GREENE: These are the emojis that we're familiar with like on mobile devices? I mean, the smiley faces, the sad faces.
WHITE: Yeah, it was a playful way to address something that's really serious. So we wanted it not to be so dark.
GREENE: OK. So a teenager, when they use these emojis who's reading them? And where do these emojis go when they're using the app?
WHITE: So what you do is you establish three contacts that you'd like to use as maybe your support group. And you write in how you're feeling in the day. And then you choose whichever emojis you'd like to choose. And it logs how you're feeling.
GREENE: Creates almost a - like a modern diary using emojis.
WHITE: Yeah, and depending on if you have too many bad emojis or if you just have a lack of range in whatever emojis you click, it'll prompt you and say, hey, do you need some support? Or what's going on? Do you want to contact someone?
GREENE: Stefan, I'm struck by this because it's sort of dealing with a sensitive problem and speaking in the language of young people. Has that been a problem, in terms of mental health and younger people, that adults don't know how to communicate in kind of the teenage way?
GOLDSTONE: I think that can be a barrier and also just the sort of formality and stigmas that are attached to things like therapy. And that doesn't mean we sit in my office and text emojis to each other.
GOLDSTONE: But certainly giving them the space in a way that feels culturally comfortable for them.
GREENE: Thank you both so much.
GOLDSTONE: Thank you.
WHITE: Yeah, thanks.
GREENE: Stefan Goldstone and Storm White from Youth Radio. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.