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Originally published October 28, 2012 at 1:02 PM | Page modified November 2, 2012 at 8:15 AM

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Ways to help suicidal teen without violating confidence

Worried teen gets advice on how to handle concerns about a friend's mental health.

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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN:

I'm a senior in high school. One of my best friends was diagnosed with clinical depression when we were freshmen. We don't have classes together this year, and I hadn't seen her for a while. A week ago I finally got a chance to catch up with her.

Turns out she had been cutting herself. She said her parents noticed and her doctor put her on a new "mood-stabilizer," which she said seemed to be working. I was upset for so many reasons.

I know that if someone is displaying suicidal/self-destructive behavior I should tell an adult, but she's already receiving help. What do I do now? I don't know whom to talk to. None of my other friends knows she's depressed, and I feel like it's something I shouldn't share.

— Worried

DEAR WORRIED:

You're right, you can't tell friends — because even though the need to talk is about you, the facts belong to your friend and aren't yours to share.

The good news: You always have someone to talk to — you and anyone else, about your friend or anyone else, about cutting or anything else.

The list of resources starts with your parents. Unless you don't trust them (in all senses of the word), lean on them.

Next on the list, your school's counselor or a trusted teacher. Seek, find, talk.

If you'd rather suffer than approach an adult, then lean on a hotline. In your case, you have the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, help line at your disposal: 800-950-NAMI (www.nami.org).

For anything else that arises, bookmark Columbia University's excellent Go Ask Alice! website (goaskalice.columbia.edu/health-resources), which offers both an expert-staffed, online Q-and-A service.

DEAR CAROLYN:

I have seen my share of friends get divorced. Usually, I just try to be supportive of the closer friend and civil/polite to the soon-to-be ex.

However, my most recent friends to divorce are very close, lifelong family friends, and the fallout of this divorce has me questioning whether it is possible to remain friends with both. After years of trying to stay out of their conflict, I am ready to throw my hands up and take a stand, which will mean losing a friend I've had since college. She is just so angry at me for not taking her side against the ex. Any advice?

— Friends With Both

DEAR FRIENDS WITH BOTH:

This sounds awful for all involved. I'm sorry.

It's probably tempting to use her insistence on loyalty as a reason unto itself for taking his "side" — and if all things are equal, that's what you'll need to do.

I think it's important to resist that temptation, though, long enough to make sure things really are equal.

That's because not everyone who insists on loyalty is being petty; some have a point. Those who have been mistreated by a spouse often feel betrayed twice over when they see friends who know what happened remain chummy with that spouse after the marriage dissolves.

So before you take any kind of stand, please use everything you know — not suspect, know — to make as objective a decision as possible about who deserves your support more.

If your digging produces no other answer than that both friends deserve your loyalty, then you need to say that explicitly to your just-so-angry friend. As in: "I realize I can't know everything that happened between you. Unless there's something you haven't shared with me, though, and given what I know, I'd stand by each of you if you were going through this with other people — and so it doesn't feel right to side against either of you now."

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.

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