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Student’s grapple with and seek help for depression and suicidal thoughts

Despite suicide being the third leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, 40% of suicidal teens do not seek help, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Teenagers all over the country struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies, but recovery is not impossible. Two students, Jane Doe and Marie Major, cite reaching out as the most important first step to getting help. 

For Major, it was hard at first to reach out for help, but talking to a close friend helped her realize getting professional help was the best course of action. 

“Reaching out is definitely the most important thing, whether it’s a teacher or a friend. I reached out to my one of my friends, and she encouraged me to speak to a counselor at school about it. I was really reluctant at first because I wanted my feelings to remain private, and I didn’t want my family to get involved, but ultimately getting professional help really helped me to find myself. I’m still working on it, but getting help is definitely a big step towards overcoming depression,” Major said.

In addition to attending therapy, Doe prioritizes self-care on a daily basis.

“The biggest thing that helped me was reaching out and getting a therapist, but there are a lot of little things I do. Just try performing acts of self-care. It’s not a cure-all or even a cure, but it helps with the day to day maintenance,” Doe said. “Remember to care about yourself. I try to challenge myself in little ways by doing things like trying to avoid being self-deprecating for a week because if you say something so many times you start to believe it.”

As a result of reaching out to friends, Doe realized that her friends were there to help her and were not annoyed by her needing help. In fact, they began to recognize signs of her depression.

“Once I became more comfortable talking to my friends about my situation, they started noticing when I wasn’t talking as much, or I would sort of drop off and wasn’t responding to texts or anything. They would notice if something was wrong and check in and assure me that I’m not a burden. I think that’s the hardest part about asking for help because you feel like a burden, and my friends remind me that I’m not. That means a lot to me,” Doe said.

Reaching out to people also helped Major combat loneliness, one of the worst effects of depression according to Major.

“Having people to listen to you shows that you’re not alone. I think the worst thing, if you’re depressed, is to feel alone because you feel like there’s no one else that you can turn to, and sometimes that leads to you thinking that suicide might be an option. But, knowing that there’s people that are willing to listen makes you feel like you have more worth,” Major said.

When struggling with depression, it’s difficult to reach out because people don’t like feeling vulnerable, according to Major.

“Depression shows vulnerability at times. Some people may not want to reach out because they feel self-conscious about themselves, especially showing their vulnerable side to other people, as they might not take it the right way,” Major said.

While some teenagers seek help for actively contemplating suicide, reaching out is important even if one only feels indifference towards death, according to Doe.

“Nothing seems like it matters. I don’t seriously consider killing myself, but I call it a more passive type of thing. Sometimes when things get really bad, I stop taking care of myself as much, and I start to think ‘oh if this happens to me, then oh well.’ That translates into smaller actions for me because I’m not going to actively walk into traffic, but if I’m crossing the street, I won’t look both ways,” Doe said. “I don’t contemplate killing myself, but I’ve thought about it a lot and sort of passively contemplated the fact that I wouldn’t really care if I died,” 

Major’s experiences with depression began early due to the isolation she experienced from struggling to connect with her peers.

“I was going through depression for a long time, starting second grade. It was hard for me to make friends and open up to and connect with people. That gradually started to make me feel more and more alone,” Major said.

Major felt alone with her struggles because she felt guilty about not reaching the expectations other people had of her.

“I felt bad about opening up to others and telling people that I felt stressed. I felt really bad about not being able to live up to their expectations that they put on me,” Major said.

It wasn’t only loneliness that affected Major; the expectations of her parents, peers and teachers and the pressure that came with them also strained her mental health.

“I felt that maybe school is only about getting good grades and meeting people’s expectations. I felt like there was that big expectation that I had to live up to and it made me feel depressed because I felt like I couldn’t be my true self in front of others. A lot of students begin to internalize others’ expectations as their own expectations that they have to live up to, and sometimes not being able to live up to them can make you feel worthless,” Major said.

The pressure Doe felt came in the form of feeling like adults expected her to just “get over it.” To solve some of the issues with pressure, Doe believes adults should re-evaluate how they are affecting teenagers with their words.

“I feel like a lot of the people my age are more helpful and understanding. That means a lot, just having some of this understanding, and I think adults are the ones who need to improve,” Doe said. “Most of the pressure that I felt to suck it up and most of the people who made me feel like a burden were adults, so I think they should be more understanding.”

When teenagers’ friends tell them they are struggling with suicidal thoughts, they may not know what they can do to help. Major said one of the things teenagers can do is to just be there to listen to their friend.  

“Having people by my side, even when I was at my lowest, was so important,” Major said. “Just knowing that I have supportive friends and people who were there to listen to me even when it’s late at night to hear what I have to say, even if they didn’t necessarily have to give advice or anything, was more than enough.”