I know that your friends may ask you to keep secrets, but there are some secrets that you shouldn't keep. If your friend is really depressed, they may be in danger, so encourage them to talk someone -- a guidance counselor in their school, the school nurse, the school psychologist, a teacher they trust, or their doctor if they don't want to talk to their parents. And if they won't talk to someone, then you may need to tell someone -- some adult in your school that you trust, or your parents or your friend's parents. Your friend may be mad at you for telling their secret, but at least they'll be alive to be mad at you.

The following is based on a true story:

I first met "J." when he was in elementary school. He and my son were the same age and would play together occasionally. He was a really nice kid and a happy kid in elementary school. Then his dad was in a bad accident and was left permanently and seriously disabled. J.'s mom had to go to work to support the family, and it wasn't easy for any of them with the dad in need of so much care.

By the time he was 16, J. was doing drugs. Even after going through rehab, he still had a lot of problems.

One night, J. attended a party. He seemed OK, but his friends noticed that he was going up to each friend, hugging them, telling each one why he loved them, and giving each one of his friends something of his. A few friends became concerned that something might be wrong because they couldn't figure out why he was telling everyone he loved them and giving them his things, but no one knew what to do -- or if they knew what to do, they hesitated to do it.

Less than 24 hours later, J. killed himself with a gun that his mother had kept in the home to protect her family.

If you have a friend who starts talking about how things might be better for their family if they weren't around, or if they start to give away all the things they care about, tell someone. And let your friend know that you care and that you're not going to run away or dump them just because they're going through a bad time. You can also tell them that depression is like asthma or diabetes or any other illness -- it doesn't mean they're crazy and it can be treated.

And if you have a friend who's depressed and you know they have access to a gun, you really need to tell someone, because when there's a gun around, people are more likely to use it.

I hope this doesn't scare you and just gives you a better sense of what to watch out for and what you might do to help. Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do and if a person is really determined to kill himself, he will.

Adolescence is a rough time. But remember: there are adults who care and whom you can talk to. When things seem really bleak, why not give them a chance?


Some things have happened since I first wrote the above, and I thought I would share them with you:

When "J." committed suicide, one of the many teenagers who were devastated by his death was my daughter. She didn't know "J." well, but she became a peer grief counselor in her high school that week and held J's. best friends as they sobbed on her shoulder and poured out their grief. That experience forever changed her, and she made up her mind that if she was ever in a situation where someone needed to do something, she would take action.

A year later, my daughter ran into a casual acquaintance from her school. The other teen was distraught and told my daughter how she was seriously thinking of killing herself . She talked about how her friends were not really supportive and that they had all lost patience with her -- that when she'd call them and try to tell them that she was down, they would just tell her to "snap out of it!"

My daughter told her that she couldn't ignore what she was hearing and that she would have to do something. And she did. She came home, and talked to me, and when we realized that she didn't know how to reach the girl's parents, she went to the school guidance office first thing in the morning. She spoke to a counselor, told them what had happened, and asked them to contact the girl's parents. She also asked that the girl never be told who had contacted the school about her.

It was almost a year later that my daughter ran into the girl again, and when she did, she asked her how she was doing. The girl replied, "I'm doing well now. I don't know who did it because the school wouldn't tell us, but someone spoke to the school about me and the school called my parents. My parents got me into therapy and it's made a big difference."

My daughter looked at her and smiled, and confessed that it had been she who had called the school. "You?!" the girl exclaimed. "You weren't even a close friend. Why did you do something when the people I considered my friends didn't do anything at all?" My daughter replied: "You were really depressed and talking about killing yourself. I told you that I couldn't just ignore that."

It is now almost 10 years later. My daughter went on to become a certified counselor and works a suicide hotline while she also works on her doctorate in psychology. Little did she know back then how those experiences would give her a purpose in life -- to help depressed teens. You, too, can help. Ask your high school to conduct a program on depression and talk with your friends about what you can do to help classmates who might be depressed. And if it is you who is depressed, please tell someone and seek help. Your life does matter.

Return to Mood Disorders Menu for more articles on depression


The above is presented for informational purposes only, and cannot substitute for the opinion of a qualified professional who is familiar with the individual








Copyright 2001 - 2009, Leslie E. Packer, PhD, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Some of the illustrations on this site are the copyrighted work of Dennis Cox, and may not be reproduced. Information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not constitute advice for any specific student or child.

To reproduce material from this site, please see the Reprint page for terms and conditions. Problems with this site? Contact: Webmaster This page last updated April 30, 2009.