The Truth About Helping A Mentally Ill Friend
Depression is a living breathing monster that stalks America’s youth. It devours confidence, ruins relationships, and even ends lives. I’ve met this beast and seen the damage it inflicts firsthand. I’ve watched it dig its claws into someone I love, riddle holes in their mind, and pick them apart until there was nothing left.
When I think about her now, though, I see only the good. I don’t remember her cries for help — I hear her laughter instead. I don’t wish I could turn back time to linger on the “what ifs," but to concentrate on her smile and the beautiful friendship we shared. But I can't overlook that there was also a time when her pain was crippling. If only I had told her I loved her that day. If only I was there for her more. If only I had protected her. If only, if only, if only.
I have come to realize that no matter how much I torture myself, I can’t bring her back and her death wasn’t my fault. There was no way my 16-year-old self could’ve stopped her. Saving her was far beyond my abilities. But perhaps I could have helped her in some ways. Maybe if I had told someone about her struggles she would still be here today.
Teen suicide is a striking epidemic among America’s youth. According to www.teensuicidestatistics.com, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says that 19.3 percent of high school students have seriously considered killing themselves, 14.5 percent of high school students made actual plans for committing suicide, and 900,000 youth planned their suicides during an episode of major depression. That means there’s a good chance you know someone who has struggled or is struggling with this horrifying disease. Maybe it's you.
Depression can stem from many different forces in one's life, but for my friend, the most important factor was her degrading home life. She lived with her grandmother and her grandmother’s less-than-perfect boyfriend. A few years into our friendship, she confessed to me that he had molested her during her childhood. As if that wasn’t enough, her parents were both addicts who spent their time in and out of jail. Though her grandmother did her best, she could never make up for these other transgressions.
My friend also lacked confidence. She was by far the most beautiful girl in our school: Every boy wanted her, every girl wanted to be her friend. But she didn't see it and put herself down on a daily basis. Despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise, she was too clouded with dejection to see what the rest of us saw. It seemed that this attitude was probably linked to the aforementioned abuse and neglect.
I am fortunate that I have never had to deal with depression myself. Even though I was chubby and often made fun of growing up, I wasn’t predisposed to negative thoughts. So even though my friend gave people around her a few blaring signs, as someone looking in from the outside in, it was hard to take what she said seriously. I often blew off her remarks as jokes. For example, she was obsessed with a Papa Roach song, the lyrics of which bellowed "Cut my life into pieces / This is my last resort / Suffocation, no breathing." She sang it over and over again and played it on a constant loop. The lyrics screamed of her battle, but I couldn’t hear it.
The best advice I can give after this experience is to get help. If you're dealing with these problems, tell your parents, your guidance counselor, someone in your religious organization — anyone you trust. If you know someone dealing with these problems, tell those same individuals. I was reluctant to say anything because I felt doing so would betray my friend. But seeking help wouldn't have been ratting her out — it could've helped her. I could've been her last resort and hope others in the same position will realize this before it's too late.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to speak to someone.
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