This piece was written by Kyle C., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council
Before I started high school, I did not know anyone with a mental illness. In fact, I didn’t really understand what depression and anxiety were; my seventh grade health class did not cover mental health. A lot of changes took place in high school. The most prominent change I noticed among my peers was how many of them developed mental health problems. Now, going into my senior year of high school, several of my best friends and many other classmates have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
When my best friend first told me he was depressed, I wasn’t sure how to react. I tried not to act stunned, though it was hard. I told him I was there for him if he needed anything. From then on, I made an extra effort to try to make him happy. I would text him every day with funny animal pictures or embarrassing stories from my school day.
Despite my efforts and those of his therapist and doctor, he ended up in the hospital. He called me from the ER to talk to me about his suicide attempt and to tell me he was safe. Honestly, I don’t remember what I said to him because I was so shocked. I went to visit him in the hospital, bringing him friendship bracelets, books, and pictures of us when we were younger.
This was my first introduction to how scary mental illness could be. Later, when more of my peers turned to me for support with their depression, I was better prepared. I didn’t try to understand what they were going through, because I couldn’t. I didn’t push them to talk about their illness, but instead listened to them when they wanted to discuss it. I didn’t blame myself for the times when their depression got worse because I’d learned it was never anyone’s fault.
I don’t have a magical cure for my friends’ health issues. The best piece of advice I can give to other teens who have peers with similar issues is to act normal around your friends. Being yourself is the best thing you can do to help your friends who are struggling. Try to keep a positive outlook on life yourself to give your friends an optimistic atmosphere to help them recover. It’s crucial to have adults in your life that you trust to talk about the emotions you feel while your friends are struggling. Whether it be a teacher or parent, you must have someone you can confide in to express worry if you feel your friend is in danger.
Those scary, dark tweets posted by your friends are a cry for help: make sure you tell an adult and check on your friend.
If you have concerns about mental health or taking care of yourself, especially if you’re pregnant or parenting, you can learn more about resources available to you in our Mental Health section. If you ever feel scared that you or your friend might do something that could really harm them, get a trusted adult or call 911.