My name is Emily. I am a 16-year-old, junior in high school, and approximately 14 days ago was the anniversary of my third suicide attempt. On September 16th, 2020, I overdosed and was admitted to my local hospital, then transferred to a psychiatric hospital four days later. A week after that, I was relocated to a wilderness therapy program in ***. I attended the program for an estimated 102 days (13.5 weeks, 3.5 months) Today, I reside in *** at a residential treatment center at which I have been a student at for ten months. I choose to approach not only the current mental health industry issues in the United States, but to inform those about the teens who struggle today. Although I can only speak for myself, I share a similar experience upward of 1.9 million kids in the U.S. today: Adolescent depression.
A trigger warning for the following essay, I go into detail about my self harm, depression, suicide, family trauma, sexual assault, abusive realtionships, substances including marajuana and alcohol. Mentioning of many other topics and oversights to minor problems along those lines.
In the 8th grade, I struggled to hold onto friendships, got caught up in the gossip and drama of being a middle schooler, all while my self-confidence dwindled. I had trouble academically, physically, mentally, and relationally as my depression began to overcome me. I began to be less interested in the activities that made me feel happy and struggled to eat and sleep. The summer before ninth grade, I was at a party with my friends, where I was sexually assaulted. I felt mortified and violated. Experiencing assault is something I struggle to remember, along with majority of my life. The only feeling that resonates with me: someone had taken my dignity from me, and kept it to be their own.
My freshman year of high school, I was exposed to substances i.e., marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, and other illicit drugs, boys, the sexual appeal of intimacy, and the so-called “spontaneity” of being an irresponsible teenager. I fell down the rabbit hole of attention seeking and popularity desperation the first semester of freshman year. I was the victim of child pornography exposure, sexual assault, and unknown drug consumption, all to gain an offensive and derogatory stature and social popularity. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was not okay. Alone with myself and without support, things were continuously getting worse. “Are you okay?” “Is there anything wrong?” “How’ve you been?” “You’ve been different lately…”
Halfway through my freshman year, COVID-19 spread among the world. All contact with the outside world had stopped, and friends were lost from lack of time spent communicating. I participated in school online, went out of the house for 20 minutes a week, and became addicted to my phone. I began to dabble in use of nicotine and marijuana. I met people I hadn’t known before and did things I never should have. COVID-19 was an outlet for my intense attachment issues, and upcoming depression. “A new study of electronic health records of 69 million people found that COVID-19 infection increased the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder, dementia, or insomnia” Although I was not alone with my increasing mental health struggles, it was the loneliest I had ever felt in a long time.
Shortly after involving myself within the realm of substances, I was introduced to alcohol. I would hang out with my friends and get drunk frequently, which caused me to be desperate for the loss of reality that was getting plastered consistently. I would drink until I was incapable of walking, talking, and functioning correctly. I was ruining myself and didn’t know how to stop.
I had completely lost interest in anything other than my phone, boys, and drugs. Sometime in July 2020, I had a therapy appointment where I shared my struggles aloud. I had finally come clean and talked about some of my difficulties. I talked about how getting my photos leaked affected me, how I was sending nudes, and drinking. I talked about the recent developments of suicidal ideation, that was most likely caused by my behaviors and self esteem issues. I had taken attention seeking to another level. I was so alone and depressed, I had developed a plan to commit suicide, which I told my therapist at the time. She then recommended I get a suicide evaluation at the local inpatient psychiatric hospital. Low and behold, I was admitted to *** from July 28th to August 5th, 2020.
Self-harm is a concept that many teens struggle with, also known as self-mutilation, self-abuse, or self-injury. Approx. 15% of teens have reported some form of self-harming in their adolescent-hood. I began to cut myself about once or twice a week, barely breaking the skin. I finally had some form of control over myself and embraced that. Like all of my other behaviors, this would only become worse. With all of my issues combined, my unhealthy coping skills became worse. I was consistently cutting on my arms and struggled to tell anyone how this affected me.
My next step was attending a partial hospitalization program in my town. I was very excited to begin, as I do well in a group therapy setting. The group was small, only four people including myself. Getting to know the other students was easy, as I don’t struggle with creating friendships, just keeping them. I was slowly but surely getting adjusted. I felt safe in the environment there. It was a space for me to be open and honest without having repercussions of truth. However, on my third day I was sexually assaulted in the break room by one of my peers. Thankfully, I had the strength to come forward about it and he was kicked out. Three of my peers, who emerged from the afternoon IOP group, came forward saying that the same guy had assaulted them. I was eager to be honest and gained so many friends. I was enjoying myself, listening to music and painting, skateboarding in the parking lot, and just enjoying the company of my friends. I had slowly become less interested in self harming, and picked up new hobbies like art. However, we all know depression doesn’t just disappear like that.
One lonely night, I was feeling very desperate for an escape, so I stole my father’s alcohol and got blackout drunk. I self-harmed the worst I ever had. The next morning, I was drunk during the little bit of school I had left and arriving at ***. I had never drunk that much before, and I regret all that happened that night. I then came clean about having the alcohol and got in trouble. My family was worried sick about my habits and didn’t know what to do. My peers at *** were concerned when I told them about my actions. It was nice to have people who cared so much. On September 16th, I decided that I wanted things to be over. I was sick of living like this, miserable and alone. I took a bunch of pills and laid down. About 20 minutes later, I began to get anxious.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave my family. I woke my parents up and told them what had happened. My dad took me to the ER, and I was admitted at 1 AM. The pills caused me to have what felt like a lifetime of a six-hour panic attack. I struggle to think about anything that happened that night, or the days following; I begin to feel anxious, and shameful. The time that I spent in the hospital was grueling and painful. I lost 12 pounds and became severely sick. On my third day, at five in the morning two police officers escorted me to *** to be admitted to a pschyiatric inpatient hospital. I spent short of seven days there, and on my sixth was told I was to be abruptly leaving that night immedietly at around 6 pm. I was thrilled! Ready to go and get back to my family, I eagerly packed up and got discharged. Ready to head to the admissions/discharge office, I was greeted by a shocking surprise.
However, surprise is short of what I would call this. A surprise is often meant to be fun and silly, although this was a difficult and unyeilding. I was introduced to two people, one a man and one a woman. The man, was big and burly and very fear inducing. The woman had a kind face, however I didn’t know her so there was a moment of panic. “I don’t know these people.” I repeated with desperation. Who were they and where were my parents? The nurse, man and woman sat me down to talk to me. They told me my family had decided to use a transportation system to travel with me to my next place. They told me I was being transported somewhere, but didn’t tell me where. I began to sob. Where was my family and when would I see them again? I told them that they were wrong, and that my family wouldn’t do that to me. They told me over and over that we had to leave. I didn’t have an opportounity to call my family, however they let me text them. I asked them questions only they would know, like the color of my room, my dogs name, my birth name, etc. This was the most terrifying moment of my life to date. I was being transported somewhere without knowing who I was going with, where I was going, and without my family. I slept in a hotel room with these people, and got to know them. They were kind hearted, and understanding. As much as I needed an excuse to hate them, how could I dislike such kind human beings? I cried myself to sleep that night, afraid that I would never see my family again. They put me on a plane, and as to where I was going? Who knows…
Boarding the plane, they told me we were taking a flight to *** Where I would be transported further to a new program called Second Nature. I had no clue what kind of program this was, so I was still in the dark. After a long flight and a long drive, we reached *** a town a few hours north of Salt Lake. The building was beat up, old, and looked very disgusting from the outside. A young man, about 25, came out to greet me, and I shook his hand. I said goodbye to the transporters and began the next phase of my journey. The young man took me inside the building. They did a psychical analysis on me, bloodwork, and a UA test. I asked small questions like, where do you guys sleep? Where is the kitchen? Trying to get accustomed, but the young man just laughed.
They took me out into the parking lot of dirt, and gave me hiking boots to try on. Soon enough, I was in an off-road, dirt and mud covered jeep on my way to some other place. I sat next to another lady, about 27 and she asked me questions about myself. I told her I was from ***, and that I was 15. She asked me what landed me here, and I said “I tried to kill myself.” She nodded like it was the most normal phrase she’d heard every day. Turns out, she had. She followed that by asked me if I liked camping…I asked her why that was relevant. She looked at me blankly. “You don’t know where you are, do you?” I laughed sarcastically and shook my head no. She explained to me that I was on my way to the feild, which is what they called the area which the students lived. I was at a wilderness therapy program, and would stay there for traditionally 4 months. Everything was about to end. I would die out there, tempertures below 18 degrees. I grew up in ***, where it’s always humid and hot. *** was a change for me.
Beginning the program was painful, but around three weeks, I began to get used to my new life. I made friends with my group members, a team of unforgettable people. We played games, hiked 4 miles a day, cooked dinner together, and did therapy every day. We enjoyed ourselves. Of course, the snow and the weather made it difficult to like it in the winter, as we were consistently freezing. But at least we were doing it together. These 13 people I met in the four months being there, of course I knew some longer than others, were the people I will never forget. Kind hearted, loving, and accepting. We were nomads, traveling across the deserts of ***. Evenings spent by the fire, singing, and dancing like sisters, brothers and siblings. We were one.
On December 15th, I was discharged from ***. I hugged my friends goodbye, but knowing that I would see them all again for some crazy reuinon when we grew older was easy living. I was transported back to the old, creaky building and I was never happier to see civilization. Four months away from any kind of technology and human life really creates a new perspective for you. I showered for the first time in 13 and a half weeks, thankfully so. The dirt washing off my body was like loosing a part of myself. I had rolled in this sand and dust for 102 days, with my soulmates. I changed into my “real-people clothes,” instead of dirt covered-wilderness therapy provided hiking gear. I had changed, I had grown, and transformed. I walked into the parking lot of the next door hotel, and low and behold was my family.
Their rental car pulled up and I saw my dad driving behind the wheel. The feeling is a feeling I will never forget. The biggest rush of seretonin I have ever gotten. My family burst out of the car, and came to hug me. I cried into my moms shoulder, and my dads side. We had been seperated for so long, and the reunion was magical. They rode with me on the plane to ***, where we stayed in a hotel and spent time together before I would be placed at my new center, ***. We arrived the next day at ***, and I was terrified. The campus was in the middle of a gloomy valley. How didn’t I know that this would be the place I would learn to call my home. My first months were easy. Three months in I was motivated to do my work, and all. Of course, we all have our struggles. It has been two months writing this essay, so I have now been at *** for 11 months. I am on the phase before the last, graduating soon.
My intention with this essay, is to show everyone that people change. I was a girl who struggled so deeply, I tried to take my own life. Now, today on November 11th, I thrive. I regulate, I try, and I conquer. Kids like me are out there, and should be recognized for their fight. I have seen sixty people like me come and go from ***. That is only sixty kids who struggle as hard as I did, and harder. We are good people, with good hearts and pure minds. We transform ourselves into new people, who are writing their own story instead of having it written for them. I write my own story everyday, by making my own independent decisions. I wake up, and create my new life moment by moment. If you are out there, whether you’re a child with depression, without depression, a parent of a child, anyone really, keep on pushing. Life isn’t meant to be easy. Life is a soul-crushing experience, but only if you let it be. An honest truth from a girl who has experienced this stuff? It isn’t worth your time. I know you feel. An inescapable, looming shadow that has chained itself to your body and brain. The shadow overtakes your thoughts and you can’t tell it no. The next time you feel like you need to hurt yourself, whenever you need support, when you feel endangered by someone around you, remember that you can get help. We are with you, standing strong. Taking your life is not the answer. There is too much to live for, and we need you. The following are resources you can contact when you need help.
When you feel Suicidal: National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
When your home isn’t safe: Safe Place: 1-888-290-7233
Project Safe Place provides access to immediate help and supportive resources for young people in crisis through a network of qualified agencies, trained volunteers and businesses in 32 states. Call the hotline to find out if the program operates in your state, or look online.
At-Risk LGBTQIA+ Teens:The Trevor Project: 866-4-U-TREVOR
Child Abuse: National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453, push 1 to talk to a hotline counselor. (Call this number for help if you have been abused, suspect a child or teenager is being sexually abused, or if you are an abuser.) For hearing impaired, call 1-800-222-4523.
Domestic Abuse: (Remember, emotional abuse is D.V. too.) National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) – Staffed 24 hours a day by trained counselors who can provide crisis assistance and information about shelters, legal advocacy, health care centers, and counseling.
Eating Disorders: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders (ANAD): 1-847-831-3438 (long distance)
Human Trafficking: National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 – OR text 233733. Caller can report a tip; connect with anti-trafficking services in their area; or request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources.
Sexual Assault: The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1.800.656.HOPE) and Online Hotline (rainn.org) offer free, safe and confidential help 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Runaway Safeline: National Runaway Safeline: 1-800-RUNAWAY ( 1-800-786-2929 )-a national, toll-free hotline for runaway and homeless youth, teens in crisis and concerned family/friends. Completely confidential.
Stalking: Crime Victims Hotline: 1-866-689-HELP (4357)
Youth Crisis: National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663 – Provides 24/7 short-term counseling and referrals to local drug treatment centers, shelters, and counseling services. Responds to youth dealing with pregnancy, molestation, suicide, and child abuse.
Warmline: Warmlines are for when you need someone to talk to but are not in crisis: https://warmline.org. This site lists warmlines by state.
~ With Emily’s permission, all references to specific locations have been replaced with ***