In middle and high school, one of my closest friends named Marley struggled with depression. Marley was diagnosed in middle school, and started talking to me and my friends about it in eighth grade. Marley is quiet, shy, and extremely caring. She was voted “most likely to brighten someone’s day” in our senior yearbook; if she ever saw someone looking upset, within a week she would arrive at school with a spontaneous present, to help lift their spirits. To me, it sometimes felt like there were two different people living inside her: one who was always happy and excited about something, and the other who struggled to see anything positive about herself or her future. My friends and I knew this, and we always tried to be there whenever she needed someone to talk to, or just someone to listen.
Knowing about Marley’s depression never really changed our friendship. It just seemed like another part of her that I knew existed, but that didn’t need to be present in every conversation. In a way, I was incredibly relieved when she told me she was receiving medication and therapy. Knowing that Marley’s struggles had a clinical name didn’t make anything better, but I felt better knowing that my friends and I weren’t the only ones paying attention to the pain with which she was struggling.
One day in eighth grade, another of Marley’s close friends found me before class and showed me her text conversation with Marley from the night before. In the messages Marley said she felt hopeless, like nothing could ever get better, and she mentioned that she had thought about suicide. If I had been the person to receive that text from her, I would have panicked and not known what to do. Until then her depression had seemed like something that sat in the background, but her thoughts of suicide scared and surprised me more than I could have imagined. For the first time since I’d found out about Marley’s depression, I was scared and had no idea how to act. Luckily, my friend already had a plan. She asked me, and another of Marley’s close friends, to go with her and tell the school nurse that Marley had mentioned suicide. We both agreed to go with her. When we talked to the nurse we found out that she knew Marley, and understood what was going on. She made a point that I would hear multiple times as I talked to various high school counselors about Marley: it was great that my friends and I were trying to take care of her, but we should make sure we were also taking care of ourselves.
A lot of people talk about how important it is for people with depression to receive love and support from their friends and family. A lot less is said about the support that these friends and family need as well. I wouldn’t have been able to be as constantly supportive the way I was with Marley if I didn’t know that she had other people to turn to, who I could talk to also. Knowing that I wasn’t her only resource took a lot of the pressure off me, and allowed me to be there for her not just as help in her times of need, but also as a friend. What allowed this to happen was the open dialogue Marley created when she told her friends about her diagnosis, and allowed us to talk to each other about it without having to worry about keeping it a secret. I came to greatly appreciate this network that I could turn to for support and advice.
This experience made me realize how important it was that my friends and I maintained an open dialogue about serious issues such as depression. Even though we weren’t solving anything, just talking about our problems and worries helped. I felt supported by my friends simply because I knew they were listening, and that’s how I tried to show them I cared for them as well. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop Marley from feeling depressed, and I also learned that she didn’t need me to. All she needed, what I think everyone needs, was someone to talk to when she was upset, who could just sit and be there for her as a friend. I could do that.
By Elyse Tierney
If you are interested in learning more about depression, please attend Speak2Swatties’ event on Thursday, April 4th at 4:30 in Sci 101.
Speak2Swatties is Swarthmore’s student-run peer counseling and mental health advocacy organization. Speak2Swatties is confidential. Speak to one of our peer counselors in person or call our hotline at 765-727-0555.