It's no secret that high school can be a fraught time for teens, with statistics showing nearly 3 million adolescents struggle with depression. But a group of girls at Brighton Hall, a school in Burbank, CA, found a fresh way to fight back thanks to WE Charity, an organization (and GH Humanitarian Seal honoree!) dedicated to empowering children, teens and families to build a better world.
In October 2016, WE gave an inspirational presentation at the school that struck a chord with student Madison De La Garza, then 14. "I'm passionate about mental health," she says. "In our school, I noticed there was quite a bit of misunderstanding about what it is and how it affects people. I thought, someone has to start this conversation, and who better than us?" She decided to begin with what she knew - depression, something she had experienced firsthand. "I wanted to make people realize that this is not something you can just get over," she says. She wrote a screenplay presenting depression as a bad-seed friend who won't go away and took her idea to administrative director Melonie Magruder, who loved it.
Madison (who was a regular on Desperate Housewives and is Demi Lovato's half-sister) teamed up with Logan Binstock, who directed; Alexis Lombardi, who starred; and a slew of other students who gladly gave up their nights and weekends to ensure that this inspiring story would be told. "At the time, up to 20% of our student population was suffering from mental illness," says Melonie. "There shouldn't be a stigma attached to a diagnosis." The students set up a GoFundMe page, raised $7,000 and shot the whole film in a long weekend.
The 20-minute film, The Imbalancing Act, premiered at a movie theater in L.A. on May 8, 2016, and was uploaded to YouTube the next day. It was an instant hit, attracting praise not only from organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, but also from struggling young people all over the world. "We've had comments from teens in Brazil who don't speak English, but who understand the film," says Madison. "One girl wrote to us on social media that she completely related to the main character, and she checked herself into treatment and got the help she needed."
Today, the girls are sharing their film with other organizations to spread awareness and inspire other future changemakers. Their biggest message? That using your own inherent talents is the most effective way to give back. "We could have done a fundraiser, but it wouldn't have been as meaningful," says Madison. "We decided to use what we already loved doing. If you're passionate, you're always going to get a better result."
If you or someone you know is depressed, visit nami.org to find support.
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Good Housekeeping.
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