In 2010, the Roanoke Children’s Theatre, some area educators and mental health advocates put their heads together on ways they could raise the issue of bullying among Roanoke Valley schoolchildren. The result was a play, “The Secret Life of Girls,” that was shown to every sixth-grader in the valley.
That initiative ended up listed on the White House’s website as one of many positive programs by communities concerned about their youth. So the locals did it again on another issue for ninth-graders in 2011, underage drinking. That play was titled “Wrecked.”
They’re back this year with another subject that’s even more daunting: teen depression and suicide. The curtain has already risen on performances of “Eric & Elliott,” for 2,500 eighth-grade students Roanoke, Roanoke County and Salem. Performances for adults begin Thursday.
The playbill lists the story as about hope and healing and the warning signs of depression. Pat Wilhelms, artistic director for the Roanoke Children’s Theatre, described the plot of the one-hour, one-act play as: “A son who commits suicide comes back to help his mother and brother cope.”
Though the topic sounds unbelievably sad, the play by Dwayne Hartford has been lauded in Congress as inspiring and empowering.
“Obviously, these are very heavy topics,” said Hallie Carr, director of guidance for Roanoke City Schools. “Our goal is to let students know that feeling sad is not an uncommon experience. But if it interferes with their normal lives in school, outside of school . . . it could be something serious.”
If you believe this is an insubstantial issue, consider: In the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a little more than 25 percent of high school students surveyed in Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem and Botetourt and Craig counties answered “yes” when asked if they experienced feelings of sadness and hopelessness almost every day.
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