Auntie SparkNotes: Help and Where to Find It
So this isn't exactly me asking for advice. I'm just your average teenager: I'm not a straight A student, varsity runner, but I like where I am. I'm happy. I do know, though, that a lot of high school students aren't.
Last year I spent an entire night online with a depressed friend, trying to keep her from hurting herself. So this is me asking you for advice, for all of us. How to combat depression, suicidal feelings, and just that general emptiness. How friends can help their friends stay strong. I'm asking for hotlines and blogs and motivations.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
First things first: if you're struggling with depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or even just stress you feel unable to manage, call the national lifeline at 1-800-273-SAFE (8255). Note: If you're not in the U.S., a comprehensive list of international resources can be found at the Suicide Prevention wiki page. The hotline is staffed by trained professionals, and you don't have to be on the verge of taking your life or diagnosed with a mental illness to call; you just need to need someone to talk to. And for those more comfortable in the online sphere, you can chat with staffers at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. There's also the Trevor Project, which is an excellent resource for LGBT kids going through a tough time, and S.A.F.E. Alternatives, which is teen-centric and dedicated specifically to cutting and other types of self-harm. Both have their own hotlines, and both offer online resources for those in need.
But when it comes to combating serious depression, thoughts of suicide, and feelings of emptiness, there's no such thing as the perfect hotline, perfect blog, or perfect motivator to escape the darkness: there's only knowing you need help, and saying so out loud. Tell your parents, teacher, pastor, doctor—any adult in your life who will take you seriously and see you get help. (And if you're not taken seriously, and you know it's serious, call 1-800-273-SAFE, and ask for assistance finding treatment in your area.) A life unencumbered by misery is out there; you just have to ask for it.
But when it comes to helping, rather than needing help yourself, you need to also recognize the limits of what you can do for a friend—and, if you're the one struggling, to recognize that there's a limit to what friends can do for you.
Because while spending all night begging someone not to cut herself may make her feel noticed and you feel needed, it doesn't solve a damn thing; it's just a temporary measure, one that lasts only as long as it takes for the unhappiness to reach crisis level once again. Which—and this is the thing—it always does. Always. And where a caring friend might have the patience to be there the first time, the second, or even the tenth and twentieth, eventually even the most sympathetic person will grow frustrated at being asked to apply emotional Band-Aids to a wound that needs major surgery.
So while being a friend might sometimes mean listening and hand-holding and comforting words, sometimes, maybe even most of the time, it means saying, "I love you, and I will always be there for you, but I'm at my limit; it's not fair to me to be your only resource, and it's not fair to you, either. You need support that I'm not qualified to give. Let's help you get it."
Because at the end of the day, helping friends stay strong means supporting them, not carrying them. It means knowing the limits of your control, and pushing them to take the reins. It means being strong enough not to let yourself be leaned on too hard or too long. And the best thing you can do for a friend who's truly in need is to push her, firmly and kindly and consistently, in the direction of a better life.
Do you have any experiences with the resources above, or one of your own to add? Share in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.