Straight Talk: Helping at-risk friends choose life

By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: After reading the column about how to help prevent suicide (July 16), I want to say that, over the years, I have attracted friends who were cutting, depressed, anorexic, or bulimic. I’m strong and happy and I would reach out to them. But it got crazy. I became emotionally exhausted from trying to keep them pumped up when all they talked about was how they didn’t know if they could keep living. Sometimes it got so bad I wouldn’t even pick up the phone. The thing was I never knew how to tell anyone else, like a parent or school professional. I was afraid the situation wasn’t that big of a deal, that this was just normal teen depression. There was also a pride, like, “they came to me, I will be the one to help them.” And I questioned counseling because I thought my friends would be less open with an adult stranger than they were with me. But after one friend was hospitalized for attempted suicide, I realized this thinking is dangerous. The best thing is to straight-up ask the person if they are thinking about death and suicide. Listen and show you care, but don’t try to be the hero. And, definitely, tell an adult. I once told a teacher about a friend who was bulimic and a few days later he was really grateful. — Lara, 17 From Beau, 19: I’m also a cheery person and I have learned to provide a safe, comfortable emotional environment for friends in need. Just knowing someone cares makes a difference; you don’t need to have the answers. Basically, I try to get people to believe in themselves and see that hardships can be sources of strength. I look at life situations, like my dad’s passing away or breaking up with my girlfriend, positively, and that’s what I try to teach. From Kenny, 19: People come to me for help almost for the opposite reasons. I’ve been through a deep depression where I couldn’t get out of bed and all I could do was cry. I took different medicines, did counseling and anger management, and learned about breathing and how to break down situations differently in my mind. Now I’m off the medicine and consider myself a success story. Many people think that those who say they are suicidal are just looking for attention. But the need for attention is real. The key is, don’t act like a counselor. Don’t say things like, “Why are you depressed?” And don’t use “poor you” statements. I used to do that, but then I would get those 3 a.m. phone calls. Instead, I tell the story of how I beat my depression and anger, and insist they get professional help like I did. What’s really bad is some friends steer you the wrong way with, “What? You’re not drinking with us tonight? Not smoking pot tonight?” They don’t get how vulnerable you are when you’re depressed. Dear Lara: Thank you for a conversation-starter that is sure to save lives. Many teens find themselves with a friend who needs help and your experience of what to do and what not to do is so excellent I would like to highlight your closing words: “The best thing is to straight-up ask the person if they are thinking about death and suicide. Listen and show you care, but don’t try to be the hero. And, definitely, tell an adult.” I’d also like to thank Kenny for urging his friends to get counseling — and noting how dangerous it is to steer a depressed teen toward drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are involved in almost all teen and college-age suicides. If the teen and college community learns to shield depressed friends from drugs and alcohol, rather than encouraging or pressuring them to “party it off,” even more lives will be saved. Write to Straight Talk at or PO Box 963, Fair Oaks CA 95628.