EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Over the past year we have continued to bring you stories around mental health, something that has been tested and challenged for all of us in one way or another during the pandemic.
This time we want to focus the conversation around teens.
Studies show that 46% of parents say their teen has shown signs of new or worsening mental health since the pandemic started.
WATCH: Forest View Hospital offers tips for parents
It's an important conversation to have and sometimes hard for families but now its more important than ever.
SHARING HIS STORY
Nic Reuben, 18, is a senior at East Grand Rapids High School who knows what it is like to struggle with mental health at a young age.
"I'm not some guy in a suit on a TEDx talk, and a microphone, saying 'I'm like 50 now' and I'm like, 'Oh, back 30 years ago, I started,'" Reuben said. "No, this was two months ago, and not only am I still going through it now, I'm still making decisions; I'm struggling and I'm sometimes failing, and that's okay."
"I've learned about acceptance and vulnerability, and those are very important. Understanding that life, there's going to be bad spots in your life, and that's a part of life. So, trying to protect yourself from not feeling bad will make you not feel at all."
Back in February, Nic wanted to his life to end.
"I think that a lot of depressed people don't necessarily feel sad," he said. "It's just that they feel numb, and that was what it was like for me."
Today he stands with a powerful message to share. "I would say, you may feel alone, but in reality, almost everybody around you (is) struggling with something and understanding that people hide it."
"The number one thing they say is, you're not alone," Reuben tells our Deanna Falzone. "And the thing for me was, even though I heard that a million times, (...) other people do struggle. You still feel alone, because everybody hides it."
HIS JOURNEY STARTED YEARS AGO:
"It was a lot of just, 'Oh, maybe I'm not as good as I thought I was at all of this stuff'," he remembers. "I was just kind of like a fish out of water, essentially."
Once he got into high school, the pressure only intensified.
"I have to step it up, I have to get these grades, there's so many expectations. And I just couldn't keep up with that stuff, so that depression has been with me for a long time. And for the longest time I didn't really think it was depression. I thought I was just losing interest, as most teenagers do with old stuff."
When Nic finally realized it was something more, he just ignored it, because coming to terms with having depression was hard.
"I had this saying that I lived life on autopilot," Nic said. "I kind of just did what I had to do to get through the day, you know, went to school, did my classes, go home play games, go to sleep, do the same thing, repeat. And that was not a good way to live my life, but it's what I did for almost seven years."
Then the pandemic hit, life changed. Nic's mom was also diagnosed with cancer during that time, and his depression got worse. Nic had already been to the emergency room twice for suicidal thoughts and was seeing a psychiatrist.
Just two months ago, Nic was ready for his life to end. His parents ended up having him involuntarily admitted to Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.
"This was a very hard for me that day, or that Friday night, I still remember it," he said.
CHANGES HE HADN'T SEEN IN YEARS:
Nic continued to put in the hard work in and out of therapy to get where he is today.
"There were so many times where us as parents felt just abandoned by any hope," said Nic's father Terence Reuben, "and to see how Nic has taken the lessons that he's learned and turn that into something that he can not only embrace but he can use to not and prove himself but others around him. For me, it's been so inspiring."
It's why they felt called to open up and share.
"I wish I could have done more to recognize the things that weren't looking right," Terence said. "I mean, we kind of did, but we may be not set up to. He's going through teenage but or, he's into that, that stubborn, mid-teenage years. Without realizing that perhaps this is too much of a coincidence for one thing to build upon the other."
Nic's story isn't uncommon.
The Centers for Disease and Prevention says between April and October of 2020, emergency room's saw a rise in visits from kids with mental health needs.
In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24 and one in four young adults over the past year have contemplated suicide during the pandemic.
Elizza LeJune, licensed social worker at Pine Rest, says parents are becoming more willing to intervene, "because the fear really is, what if my child tells me they're suicidal?"
"A lot of times, it is us who are uncomfortable," she said. "It's like, well, what are you going to tell me if I start this conversation up? What am I gonna be blamed for? Is it my fault? Am I not giving you nothing to do? No one wants that spotlight back on them, and I think that this is really the area to take away our egos, like, I'm coming in to help you. and I'm not perfect myself."
"I feel like we're closer than we've ever been ever in our relationship and I think a lot of that is just because of not only what I've done to help myself, but what they've done as well, because it's not a one sided thing. they've been working their butts off to help me as well," Nic said.
"My message to parents is to spend enough time with your children to truly recognize the signs, the symptoms, and every little thing that you see, be open to talk about it," Terence said.
SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
There are signs that your teen might be contemplating suicide:
- Emotional pain, distress, anger.
- Significant changes in mood or behavior like becoming very irritable.
- Withdrawing or isolating from activities that once brought them joy.
- Also keep in mind that depression might look different in teens than adults, teens may experience irritable mood rather than sadness.
Nic has become advocate for mental health and has also become involved with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. He will be speaking at their Stomp Out Stigma Walk for Mental Health on Saturday, May 15th held at the GVSU Seward Lot. This event is free to the public. Masks required. For more information about the event and the resources they offer to the community, click here.
If you or someone is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 800-273-8255.