Gasps filled Atholton High School's media center as clinical psychologist David A. Gold shared his experiences with teenage self-mutilation.
"A lot of parents don't realize how prevalent cutting is," Gold said. At the Columbia mental health practice where he works, he said, he sees about the same number of teenagers addicting to cutting themselves as those addicted to marijuana.
"Most of the time when we talk about cutting, it's like an addiction."
About 50 parents and teens gathered Thursday evening for "Teen Stress & Depression," a 1 1/2 hour-program from HC DrugFree, a county nonprofit organization that works to help teenagers avoid using drugs and alcohol.
HC DrugFree's sessions address topics that relate to drugs and alcohol, such as last month's program on steroid use. Laura Smit, the organization's executive director, said the nonprofit also focuses on more general topics, such as stress and depression, because they may lead to drug and alcohol abuse.
"Kids who are depressed sometimes self-medicate by using marijuana or drinking," Smit said. "Even 'good' kids may end up drinking on the weekend or smoking pot because they have so much stress during the week."
At Thursday's program, Gold, of Crossroads Psychological Associates in Columbia, talked about common signs of depression for adults and teenagers. He said, for example, that although a depressed adult may feel sad or guilty, moodiness or irritability is a better sign of depression in teens.
"It's a little different, if we're talking about kids or teenagers," Gold said.
Gold said other symptoms of teenage depression may include changes in routine, increased passivity and repeated or ritualistic behavior. He said clothing can also be a sign, as teenagers will often wear long sleeves in the summer, for example, to cover cuts they've made on their arms.
He also addressed common worries, such as whether spending a lot of time on the Internet is a sign of depression.
"If the Internet is a way for you to insulate yourself from direct contact, that's a warning sign for me," Gold said.
Many high school students attended the event, with notebooks in hand to jot down extra-credit notes for their Advanced Placement psychology classes.
Chrissy Cascio, a senior at Centennial High School, was there taking notes. Even though she attended the program for class, she said, she was interested in learning more about how to deal with stress.
"I was surprised because it seemed like it was more directed to parents than teens," Cascio said. "But I got to see the parents' perspective.
"I learned how important it is to spend time with your family."
Katherine VanLent, also a Centennial High senior, said she wanted to learn how to help friends who are overwhelmed.
She said she found it helpful to learn that one of the best things a teen can do for depressed friends is to never give up on them, but to also seek help from a guidance counselor or other adult.
"Sometimes it's hard to deal with their stress and with your stress, too," VanLent said.
Jessa Coulter, a Mount Hebron High School senior who attended Thursday's program, is one of the two teen members on the HC DrugFree board. She said the program on stress and depression was especially important because so many teenagers are affected.
"I think there's a lot of stress for the youth, coming from everywhere," Coulter said. "I think it's important to at least give people enough information to know there's other ways, besides turning to drugs."
For Coulter, one of the best parts of the program was being able to "see things that you plan being implemented."
Parents at the event also went home with more knowledge about teen depression. Mary Blum of Ellicott City, the parent of a middle-schooler, wanted to learn more about dealing with stress before her child reaches high school.
"I was looking to find red flags," Blum said. She said she found helpful Gold's tip that a teenager's lack of focus on the future could be a major sign of depression.
Lahouari Bounoua, also of Ellicott City, attended the event with his daughter, Nadia. He said he didn't think the information took into account how culture can play a huge role in how teenagers are raised, but believed the presentation was helpful.
"I was interested in learning," Bounoua said. "I think overall he covered a lot of things."
Nadia Bounoua, a Centennial High junior and AP psychology student, said she learned more about the balance that teenagers and their parents must reach and the roles that each plays in the family.
HC DrugFree's next program, "Dangerous and Destructive Decisions: Teen Drinking, Speeding and Distracted Driving," will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the central library in Columbia.