FSPH Summer Camp Helps Latino Teens Battle Depression

A one-of-a-kind research-based summer camp that helps Marion County Latino youth, who as a group have alarmingly high rates of depression, begins its third year June 20. Camp organizers are seeking donations through the IU Foundation to operate the camp and provide additional services.

The one-week camp is called "Your Life. Your Story." It was created in 2014 by the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in collaboration with the Latino Health Organization, with support from the Minority Health Coalition.

The groups hope to raise $35,000, which would cover the cost of the one-week camp and give the organizations the opportunity to expand their work with the Latino campers and their families throughout the year.

"As successful as the camp has been, we think that as we do more during the year, it will be more powerful," said Silvia Bigatti, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences.

According to Bigatti and her research team, there are approximately 35,000 to 39,000 Latino teens in Marion County. They estimate 12,000 of these teens are depressed, and 8,000 have suicidal thoughts.

Those findings followed a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey that found Hispanic high school students had a 24 percent higher rate of depression and a 65 percent higher rate of suicide attempts compared to their white peers.

In addition to immediate effects and concerns, depression can have long-term effects on adolescents that affect school success, social development and life opportunities.

The feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts spring from the stress of straddling two cultures, Bigatti said: "The teens we surveyed struggle not only against prejudice and discrimination, but because they live in a culture and school environment that is different from their families' language and values at home."

While those teens live in Marion County, the same issues confront Latino teens across the country, Bigatti said. "Our hope is that as we gain evidence of how effective the camp is, we will be able to start publishing and disseminating it so that it is considered in other communities," she said.

Latino youth go through a prevention-oriented resilience-building curriculum at the camp, followed by a selection of art- and movement-based activities to develop goals for the future and identify barriers and opportunities. Each teen is also paired with a young adult, an IUPUI student who functions as a role model and mentor.

"Resilience protects from stress and depression," Bigatti said. "We are trying to train the teens to reconceptualize stressful situations as something that you can overcome and not something that defeats you."

"'Your Life. Your Story.' is more than a camp," Bigatti said. "It's a life-changing experience. But as the program has grown, so too has our need for resources to sustain it."