What Can You Do When Your Friend Struggles With Mental Health?

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. 

On Love, Relationships, Sex, and Protection

This piece was written by Juli K. a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council.  Juli attends Eastern Michigan University and is pursuing a career in social work. Since she was 17, she’s worked for adolescent sexual health under organizations such as Michigan Youth (MY) Voice and Teen Adolescent Championship Teen Advisory Council (TAC TAC). She plans to continue working with adolescent sexual health as part of her social work career. 

Do you ever think about your first love? I often think about mine from high school. Despite how things ended between us, if I had not gone through some of those experiences then I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

When I was 14, being in love was never something I would have imagined happening to me. I would watch The Notebook and The Titanic, silently protesting because I just knew that someone loving me as much as Noah loved Allie or Jack loved Rose wasn’t possible. But if you have seen these classic romance movies, you would know that despite all of the love being given and received, relationships have their consequences. I learned this firsthand with my first loving relationship.

My boyfriend at the time was a few years older than me and had already engaged in sexual activity with previous partners. Although I was always very conscious about taking care of myself, I let my guard down when it came to him. We eventually started engaging in sexual activity ourselves.

When I was 15, we had a condom break. My periods were never regular, so when my period was a few days late I didn’t really worry about it. But after that incident all I could think about was how I wanted my period to come to ease my mind. After a few weeks had passed and I still did not have a period, I sat down and questioned the possibility that I could actually be pregnant. My mom was a teen mom, and I saw how that affected me and my sisters’ lives growing up.

All of a sudden I had to think about things I never dreamed of imagining myself thinking of at 15. How would I tell my mom if I was pregnant? Would I be able to terminate the pregnancy? What if my mom and boyfriend pressured me to keep the child? What would people at school think? All the over-thinking made me nauseous.

A friend of mine picked me up one afternoon and took me to Walmart where I did my pregnancy test in the bathroom. I would not have dared to take it at home; what if my mom found it in my garbage?! So there I was, in a Walmart bathroom, peeing on a stick. I patiently waited while the lines showed up, very clearly showing that I wasn’t pregnant! I was so happy I nearly cried. It was then and there that I decided getting on birth control was something I had to do to protect myself even more if incidents like this did happen again.

Deciding to engage in sexual activity with someone is quite a big decision. It’s important to protect yourself and your partner because unfortunately, being caught in the heat of the moment can actually take a toll on your future. I’m sharing my experience not to scare people from having sex, but to raise awareness about how important it is to have protection and communication between you and your partner. Even if things feel good and right, they can still have long-term consequences that could affect your future.

For more information about your questions around sex and relationships, your rights to birth control and emergency contraception, and information about pregnancy, visit our Youth Legal Guide.

What does a healthy relationship look like?

*This piece was written by Brandon R., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council*

Relationships with others have a big impact on who we are. Healthy relationships between friends, partners, family members or significant others all have a few important traits.

All relationships involve tolerance, patience, and understanding. But despite our best efforts, everyone makes mistakes. No relationship is going to be that perfect Cinderella-esque tale of romance and love. Arguments and disagreements happen.

But sometimes, those rough patches can go too far. Then, a relationship can go from healthy to unhealthy. Here are some warning signs to take note of, so you can recognize if you’re in an unhealthy relationship. (Remember, “your partner” can refer to anyone with whom you have a relationship, including friends, family, and significant others.)

  • Your partner has physically harmed you out of anger or frustration, either on purpose or accidentally.
  • Your partner has verbally harmed you—he or she has used words to make you feel hurt or depressed
  • Your partner forces you to cut off relationships with other friends or family members
  • Your partner makes you change an aspect of yourself in order to be with them. They may pressure you to wear different clothes, get new hobbies, or change your beliefs.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, you can (and should) try to get help. You can talk to a counselor at school, speak with a trusted adult, or even seek out therapy with you and the other person where you both sit down and discussing what challenges you face.

Sometimes, these problems can’t be fixed. Unfortunately, breaking up or ending relationships is sometimes the best option for relationships that just aren’t working out. Everyone has the right to end a relationship that they no longer want to continue. If you’re having trouble ending a relationship, talk to a parent or trusted adult.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, there are ways to address the challenges you’re facing. The most important part of a healthy relationship is communication. One of the biggest reasons relationships fail is because of people not expressing their problems. And it makes sense—it’s sometimes difficult and awkward to talk about personal things, even with somebody really close.

Similarly, it is important for two people in a relationship to be open-minded and tolerant. Friends and partners never intentionally hurt each other (and if they do, it’s likely that they aren’t truly a friend or partner) so a compassionate attitude is essential to a long-lasting relationship. When communicating with your partner, have compassion and try to imagine yourself in their position. It may be challenging at first, but it’s a good first step towards working to keep your relationship healthy and strong.