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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother died when I was 7. I'm 13 now, and my father just told me Mom suffered from bad depression toward the end of her life. He also said that it would worry him a great deal if I had depression, too.

I'm afraid I do. I get sad easily and I have thought about suicide, but I don't know why. It could be the stress of my family life, but it can't still be about my mother's passing, can it? That was six years ago.

I actually scare myself sometimes, but I don't think my depression is bad enough to see someone about it.

What do you think? -- SCARED IN SOUTH CAROLINA

DEAR SCARED: It's time to talk to your father. Depression can run in families. You also need to tell a professional exactly what you have told me. Please don't put it off. The sooner you get professional help, the sooner you will feel better.

DEAR ABBY: I am unemployed right now. I become extremely nervous when I fill out a job application because I have a bankruptcy on my record. Several potential employers have indicated they will check my credit rating as part of their standard background search. I was having terrible money problems when I filed bankruptcy a little over a year ago. But since then I have joined a 12-step group called Debtors Anonymous, and it is helping me a great deal. If I didn't have this bankruptcy on my credit report, I don't think I'd have any trouble at all getting a job.

How should I handle this at a job interview? -- RECOVERING DEBTOR

DEAR RECOVERING: Tell the truth. The way the economy has been, you won't be the only one with a bankruptcy showing up on your credit report. To admit that you had a problem and are doing something about it is nothing to be ashamed of.

DEAR ABBY: I was in the parking lot of a shopping center when I noticed an older woman two cars away yelling and hitting a little girl. The girl looked about 6 or 7.

I got into my car, pulled up next to them and called out, "Are you OK?" The little girl was crying and trying to straighten her scarf; the woman snapped back, "Yes, she's OK!"

This kind of behavior really bothers me. I frequently see adults slap, hit, pinch and berate their children -- even babies in strollers. These adults seem to be out of control, and everybody ignores them or looks away.

Sometimes I stare at the parent or walk slowly by to let them know that I know what they're doing. One time, I reported a mother who kept slapping and scolding her Down syndrome daughter. The girl was doing nothing wrong and kept repeating, "I'm your FRIEND." It turns out slapping is legal in Virginia where I live. And by the way, I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

What can I do to help some of these kids? Any suggestions would be appreciated. -- SAD AND DISGUSTED IN VIRGINIA

DEAR SAD AND DISGUSTED: I checked with several state agencies and found out that although slapping may be legal in Virginia, the state policy is "open to interpretation." The Virginia Department of Social Services operates a 24-hour statewide, child-abuse-reporting hot line. If a report is deemed valid, a local agency will conduct an investigation. The in-state number is (800) 552-7096; from out of state, the number is (804) 786-8536.

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