Feature Photo By: Izzy Honey – Chris Arias poses, displaying her tattoo for the Semicolon Project– a movement for suicide awareness. The analogy is that a semicolon is used when an author could have ended a sentence, but they didn’t.
By: Chris Arias, Review Staff
Each day in our nation, there is an average of over 5,240 suicide attempts by young people grades 7-12 (the Jason Foundation).
It’s easy to think of these people as just as a number– to depersonalize something so jarring. It’s easy to disregard the overwhelming amount of hurt that lies in these statistics, but the chances are that you know one of these people.
In May of 2011, I was part of the statistic for the first time. Year after year, I continued to struggle with mental illness, causing my first three years of high school to be a blur of different hospitals, treatment centers, and ever-changing diagnoses.
Being in treatment centers doesn’t feel like real life. It’s like everything is on pause, like you’re in limbo somewhere between reality and a dream. Everyone you’re with is equally as screwed up as you are. It can be a great thing for stabilization, but it can also be detrimental. I feel like I’ve missed out on being a teenager because of it. In ways, I lost my independence, but in just as many ways, I had to grow up too fast.
No one warns you about the culture shock getting discharged from facilities in the “real world.” Even if it feels like everything is on hold while you’re in there, the world never stops spinning. I remember walking through a Walmart the day after being discharged and wondering why people weren’t staring at me, wondering if anyone knew how messed up my head was just by looking at the way I walked, or the way I kept glancing down at my shoelaces, which was a forbidden commodity in such places as my treatment center.
Going back to school was a special kind of hell. Naturally, rumors occur after someone drops off the face of the Earth. Even my closest friends were afraid to talk to me, for fear of “setting me off.” It seemed as though attempting suicide had changed my personality completely, and in the process, I had grown an extra head.
I am not alone. Many teenagers struggle with mental illness, some severely enough to get to the point of being hospitalized. We all have very different stories, but a lot of us have one thing in common: we are afraid to tell them.
That is exactly why I am writing this today. People who suffer from mental illness are not anomalies. According to Youth.gov, 17% of teens experience an emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder, and yet we feel alone because no one wants to talk about mental illness.
But I know what it’s like, and maybe you do too. I know what it’s like to be 12 years old and hopeless; I know what it’s like to be 14 and to feel alone in a room full of people; I know what it’s like to celebrate your 17th birthday in a residential treatment facility, wondering if you’ll ever have a future, if you’ll ever be able to live a normal life.
But I also now know what it’s like to be 18 and full of hope. I know what it’s like to be full of life and potential and to know that I have my whole life ahead of me.
After six suicide attempts, eight hospital stays, and countless relapses, I can finally say that I am on the upswing and I am excited for the future. But it took me years, and I still struggle on a daily basis.
Suicide is preventable. Speak up if you or someone else it struggling– it may be the hardest thing you ever do, but it might also save a life. The National Alliance on Mental Illness lists some potential signs of suicide:
- Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, family, and the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing, or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
I am more than just a statistic– I am a person who has hit rock bottom. These 5,240 young people are more than just a statistic– they are people who have hit rock bottom, people who have known hopelessness.
Recovery is possible. Hope is out there, and in the wise words of Albus Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
If you or someone you know is in danger, please ask for help. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone.