Ever since author Kristi Hugstad’s husband, after years of struggling with clinical depression, completed suicide in 2012 by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide.
That mission is what inspired her to write Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis. In it, she speaks candidly to today’s youth — and the parents, teachers, and coaches who love them — about the anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts that far too often accompany the unique challenges that face their generation. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
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Being a teenager in this day and age is totally exhausting.
Your parents and teachers were once teenagers (hard to believe, right?), but they didn’t have laptops, smartphones, and social media. They didn’t have to keep up. So they get it, but maybe not entirely, not the way you do because you’re in it. And you’re in deep — you can’t avoid it — you can’t just not be who you are or where you are! There are times you just want to go in your bedroom, shut the door, and not have to deal with anyone ever again.
It’s only human to reach your breaking point sometimes with people, school, friends, family, life. But when that breaking point feels like a tunnel without a light at the end, when it feels like you are very alone and no one cares, when it feels like you are only spiraling further downward, that’s cause for concern — that’s when a problem might be hard to solve completely on your own. That’s when you need help — which is totally okay. Everyone — poor, rich, old, young, from every background and ethnicity — needs help in life once in a while. No one can go it alone all the way.
I have written this book specifically for teenagers in crisis, and that’s who I often address throughout. But in fact, this book is for anyone — teen or parent, teacher or coach — who knows a teen who may be struggling with depression or suicide. Whether you are reading this book for yourself or to help a friend or family member, I hope I can help you find the information you need.
Why do I think I can help? Bill, my husband, completed suicide.
Yes, you read that right.
It was awful, horrible, painful. In fact, words will never be able to accurately describe the experience, which I share near the end of the book. That experience has made me want to help people who suffer from depression and may be considering suicide — or who know someone who suffers from depression and is suicidal — to find the appropriate treatment in order to feel better.
Depression is a disease of the mind. When you understand that, it loses some of its power. Yes, depression is very real and very scary, and suicidal thoughts can make someone feel frightened and overwhelmed. A depressed person might think they’re “going crazy” or feel embarrassed to share with others what they are thinking. Or they might try to talk about how they feel but others don’t take them seriously. Or maybe the people they talk to don’t know what to say, so they just say nothing.
If this is happening to you, don’t give up. Talking about depressive or suicidal thoughts and feelings with the right person makes all the difference in the world.
When you’re in a scary place, you’re always better off when you are with someone.
Unfortunately, nearly forty-five thousand Americans die by suicide each year. That’s a lot of suffering. The truth is, many of us think about suicide at one time or another in our lives. This can happen when we are struggling with overwhelming problems that make us feel trapped and hopeless. We don’t genuinely want to die. We want to stop feeling so miserable, and bad feelings can sometimes feel permanent. But they aren’t. All feelings can change, though sometimes we need help to change them. Suicide is what can’t be taken back; the consequences are permanent.
Further, people don’t need to have “bad things” happen to them to become depressed. Did you know that the modern conveniences of smartphones and social media can actually contribute to feelings of anxiety and insecurity? It’s true. Social media has been linked both to depression and to behaviors that are either risk factors or symptoms of depression: insomnia, bullying, inability to concentrate, and low self-esteem.
How does this happen? On social media, it’s impossible to have anonymity or control over what others say. It’s also easy to (inadvertently) compare ourselves to others, especially when peers post about their lives — even when we know that people carefully curate what they show and that a few characters, sentences, or pictures never tell the whole story. We may feel our life doesn’t measure up, and yet we want our peers’ approval and are afraid of losing it. Depending on someone else’s approval can make anyone feel vulnerable and increase anxiety. This is normal but not helpful, particularly for someone who’s already struggling with depression.
Thus, social media connects us in many wonderful ways, but it also can feed the very fears that lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness. If this speaks to your experience, and you feel scared to admit your feelings to your parents, teachers, or peers, know that it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t give yourself a hard time for being scared.
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Kristi Hugstad is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis. A certified grief recovery specialist, a grief and loss facilitator for recovering addicts at South Coast Behavioral Health, and the host of The Grief Girl podcast, Kristi frequently speaks at high schools. She lives in Orange County, California. Visit her online at www.thegriefgirl.com.
Excerpted from the book Beneath the Surface. Copyright © 2019 by Kristi Hugstad.