Surviving high school while fighting the desire to die
'Suicide was on my mind every single day' before getting help, says Griffin Jenkins
When Griffin Jenkins was 12 years old, he realized his world was not good anymore.
By the time he turned 14, he realized he wanted to die. And he tried. Twice.
"Suicide was on my mind almost every day," said Jenkins.
"I just thought my life sucked … and at the time I didn't think things were going to get better. I thought this is just how it was for me and I had a crappy life."
What the Winnipeg teenager didn't know at the time was that he was not alone. Not by a long shot.
According to the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, between 15 and 20 per cent of teenagers experience at least one period of clinical depression. It's suspected a lot more of them experience anxiety. Too many of them, however, suffer in silence.
Jenkins, now 19, is the association's youth co-ordinator. He's sharing his own story with the CBC in an effort to educate high school students today.
His message is simple: if you feel sad, there is help. You can survive this.
"I know how it feels when it feels like you will never feel better again," Jenkins said.
A dark time
For Jenkins, that feeling began when he was in the seventh grade. His parents divorced. Some relationships went sour. The pain kicked in.
"It all kind of hit me at once and I began to spiral down to a dark time of depression where I didn't leave my house. I just kind of slept all day and I didn't talk to anyone, and then I began to self-harm," Jenkins recalled.
"I began to cut myself, to kind of just release some of the pain that I was dealing with."
I began to spiral down to a dark time of depression.- Griffin Jenkins
That caught his parents' attention, so they sent him to a counsellor. They didn't hit it off. Jenkins didn't like him, so he lied. He said he felt better. And he never went back.
Instead, Jenkins took up drinking and drugs. He dropped friends and cut classes. He attempted suicide.
His parents reached out once again, and this time he reached back. By then, he was in Grade 9. He didn't think he'd make it to Grade 10.
"Because I was starting high school, there were a lot of things changing and the self-harm had gotten worse," he said. "And then, this time I said I need help, because I knew that the way I was going wasn't gonna last long."
He saw a different counsellor and this time, they clicked. (The takeaway from this, he said, is that not all counsellors are created equal. Keep trying until you find one who suits you best.)
"For the longest time, I didn't believe anything could get better," Jenkins recalled. "After just one meeting [with the new counsellor], it was the first time I was able to say, 'Things can get better, it could get better.'"
Things did get better — a lot better. Jenkins said he learned to identify the emotional triggers. He learned coping skills to work through them. He created a network of supports to reach for, and he learned not to be afraid to ask for help.
Sharing his story
By Grade 10, Jenkins was ready to share his story. He confided in a few teachers at school.
"At first it was just saying like, 'Hey, so this is something I've been going through; like, this is why I've been missing some classes lately, and I just want you to kind of understand what's going on in my life,'" he said.
Their support, he said, was "awesome."
"We … talked about how like if my anxiety gets bad … we can postpone some assignments, we can make it work," Jenkins said.
I was able to say 'it can get better. It could get better.'- Griffin Jenkins
By Grade 11, he had shared his story with the entire student body. That's when he realized he wasn't alone.
For weeks afterwards, he received text messages and emails from students who felt just like he did, students seeking his advice, and students thanking him for articulating their pain.
"From that point on, I really kind of began doing peer support work where I was helping other people who were kind of going through things," Jenkins said.
Jenkins went on to graduate from high school. He now takes a few college courses, along with his full-time work with the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba.
He considers his depression a lifelong condition, but it's one he's able to manage. He is symptom-free "80 per cent of the time," he said, and he knows how to manage it when the going does get rough.
His advice to parents? If your child has suddenly dropped their favourite hobbies or isolated themselves, or they just seem different, talk to them. Tell them you care. Offer your support.
His advice to teens in crisis? Reach out to someone you trust. Ask for help. Know there is help. And with that help, things can get better.
"High school will suck sometimes," Jenkins said.
"But absolutely, things can get better. The struggles that you go through and the effort it takes to get there is nothing in comparison to how great it feels to say, 'I've conquered through it, I've made it through.'"
If you suspect you are in crisis, or you know someone who is, contact the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba at 204-786-0987 or toll-free 1-800-263-1460, or go to its website.
You can also contact the Klinic Crisis Line at 204-786-8686 or the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170. Both operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.