by Phoebe Kurth, LiveGirl High School Mentor
When the topic of depression is brought up, most people either avoid it, as they don’t know what to say, or misinterpret what it actually means to be depressed. Before last March of 2018, I was one of the people who misinterpreted the meaning, which is one of my biggest regrets. I used to think that depression meant that someone was upset and isolated themselves all the time. I now know that depression can be experienced in waves and is not always a constant emotion. Also, I learned that a person diagnosed with depression can have many friends, and still experience feelings of severe sadness and dejection. Acknowledging what depression entails not only benefits your own well-being, but also prepares you to step into someone’s life when necessary.
It may be helpful to know why I am writing this post before I begin. In March, one of my good friends, Nate, committed suicide. I met Nate through my ski racing program in Vermont and we have been skiing together since we were six years old. Skiing on the weekends is when my group of friends and I could be free, clear our minds from the chaos of school, and ultimately just have some fun. I only saw Nate on the weekends and, other than his skiing career, knew little about his life back home. Though it is hard to accept, I know deep down that I could not have prevented his suicide and this post is not about how to do that. I want to write this post so the LiveGirl community can simply have more information about teenage depression and guidance on how you can support a friend, classmate or teammate.
1. Acknowledge that this is real
It is known that 1 out of 5 adolescents have a mental health disorder. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. So yes, this is real. Before March, I didn’t doubt that these problems weren’t real, but I never thought they would be the problems of someone I knew. Accepting that this had actually happened to Nate was maybe one of my biggest struggles in the grieving process. Yes, I have read books and watched movies where a character has a mental illness, but that stuff seemed distant from my life. Something that I wish I had realized is that anyone can have a mental illness, and unfortunately that is the unavoidable truth. Knowing this information could allow you to be more open to understanding other people and taking an active role to help the people you love.
2. Choose your words wisely
A lot of people in today’s society are not careful with the language they use and how it might affect the people around them. I certainly wasn’t before March. I’m not referring to negative words that bring people down. I’m talking about words that we use commonly when joking around. For example, “Kill me now (KMN),” or “I’d rather die than have to do that.” If you were texting a friend and they said one of these phrases, would you question if something was wrong? Or would you not even hesitate and continue with the conversation? I even admit that I used to say these things to my friends. The problem with saying these things is that when someone uses them and they are not joking, you need to be able to recognize that and ask yourself, Do I need to take a step back and see if this person needs my help? With everyone using this language around me (as a joke), I wasn’t able to identify that something was truly wrong with my friend. Eliminating comments about death and depression when they are not sincere is crucial to becoming a more authentic person and helping those in need.
Listening may seem extremely simple, but it is actually a bit more complicated in this case. In this day and age, the teen generation seems to be more comfortable with communicating through technology. Everyone is texting, snapchatting, and direct messaging. Nate talked about his depression and problems through technology rather than talking to my group of friends in person. I didn’t acknowledge his problem as real, take his words seriously, nor most importantly, listen. Speaking to someone face to face allows you to better interpret the feelings behind their words. On the other hand, the messages within a text can easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I remember thinking to myself before his death, If he was truly this upset, he would say something to my friend group in person, right? When I saw Nate in the winter, I saw him like everyone else: thrilled to be skiing with friends. Because of this, I thought, he’s just saying these things as a joke. Wrong. Although I saw one side of Nate, there was another side that I didn’t. Just simply listening to what friends and family are saying will allow you to not only determine if something is wrong, but also to play a more active role by seeking help when necessary.
The guilt I felt after Nate’s death was unbearable. Questions like How could this have happened?, How did I not see this coming?, and Is this real? wandered through my head for weeks after he died. My ten other friends had the same questions and felt the same guilt that seemed like it would never go away. I wonder, if I could go back and do one thing over again, what would it be? To be honest, I’m not sure. I talked to some professionals while I was grieving, and they told me there might not have been anything I could have said or done that would have changed the outcome. Though this may be true, acknowledging that anyone could have a mental illness, being more careful with my words, and listening are the things that I wish I knew and did.
This winter, my ten friends and I will take part in and organize a memorial ski race in Nate’s honor. More than anything, Nate loved to ski and we will remember and cherish every memory we made with him by continuing to do what he loved. I miss him terribly and not a day goes by without me thinking about him.
The LiveGirl community, built from the ground up by the incredible CEO, Sheri West, is unbelievably strong and beyond inspiring. The camp and monthly leadership summits are great opportunities to become close with girls around Fairfield County and make long-lasting relationships. As a high school mentor, I tell my campers repeatedly that I will be there for them and am available to listen and give advice if a situation, big or small, ever comes up. I recommend reaching out to a trusted adult (parent, therapist, doctor, guidance counselor, or school social worker) if you are concerned about a friend as it could possibly make a big impact. I hope my post makes our community aware of these issues and shares advice I wish I had, so we can become stronger and keep changing the world one step at a time.
For more information about depression, check out these resources below: