Finding the light: Teens struggle to overcome mental health issues

Trees coated in green dwindle now expose bare sticks, laying atop a crisp blanket of colorful leaves. The faint scent of sour apples and wilted leaves drift with the wind’s currents. Families gather at the heat of fireplaces. This is the season of family, gifts, laughter, precious memories that will linger in one’s thoughts as the years go on. But it is quite the opposite for the Anders family.

Standing in the crisp fall air late Oct. 1, Joyce Ander’s heart sank while local police officers kept her home as they searched for her lost daughter.

“When I saw the guy with the gloves I knew (the search) was over,” she said, “and my heart has been shattered in a million pieces ever since.”

After years of fighting with depression and anxiety due to extensive bullying, starting at just sixth grade, Samantha Anders, a freshman at Charleroi High School, began to let darkness creep in despite all the progress.

For years, Samantha Anders and her family attended Christian Center Church located in Belle Vernon, where several other Scottdale residents attend.

On Oct. 1, the darkness claimed victory over Samantha Anders when she took her own life.

For 14 year-old Samantha, known as “Sam” to her friends, life became too much to bear. She joined other teens in the United States who commit suicide as a way to escape their problems. In a startling statistic, 129 teens end their lives each day, on average, in the U.S., according to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

For Sam, hints about the problems that led up to her death could be found in her journal, which was discovered by her parents unfortunately, not until after her death.

Sam wrote the following journal entry within months of her death:

“You know, it’s kind of funny the way the world works. I thought that I was depressed before, so I got some help. I was hospitalized, and the only thing I gained from that was PTSD. Then I received therapy, but I have to keep switching counselors. I have to keep getting used to a new person that I’m supposed to trust. On top of all that, I have to keep trying new medication that does absolutely nothing.

“After all this ‘treatment’ I’ve received, I feel way more depressed than I’ve ever been,” she continued. “I feel like I’ve lost hope of getting better. I just want this depression to go away. I want this Anxiety to go away. I want to be my old self. The funny thing is, I don’t even remember who my old self was. When the hell is Sam coming back? When can she again do the things she loves?

“Why does this darkness always win.

This feeling is not one that only Sam endures, but millions of teens in our country and even more around the world.

“You feel as though you’re alone in your battle, and you end up shutting people out which only makes things worse,” Southmoreland senior Jocelyn Knopsnider explains. “And things just kind of spiral downhill from there. I got to the point where the only thought on my mind was how am I going to sneak a whole bottle of pills into my room without anyone hearing.”

According to AFSP, there were estimated 1.3 million suicide attempts made in 2017; 47,173 of those were “successful.” This is just in the United States alone. In causes ranging from bullying to inherited family traits, mental health has become the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

“I believe it was part of the reason I have mental health issues, but not the whole reason. Mental health (issues) runs in my family,” Knopsnider said. “So genetically, I was screwed from the start. But bullying very much fed into that.”

Senior Julianna Ohr agrees.

“When I was around 12, I started connecting the pieces and started disliking everything about myself which caused a lot of problems for me,” Ohr said. “The hardest battle I faced was trying to accept myself for who I am and what I’m worth despite what people would say, and realizing that no matter what you do, there will always be people who will try to bring you down.”

Ohr said that her problems got worse when as she reached middle school.

“Around 13 the constant fight with myself really got the best of me, and I started thinking about how less the pain would be if I just took myself out of the world,” she said. “I believed not having to feel again was so magical, even if there were happy times, too. The pain seemed to overwhelm the any source of positivity in my life, and I felt like leaving the world was the only way to rid the sadness.

“There are days where I feel the world is crashing on top of me all over again and it’s the worst day ever,” Ohr continued. “But I remember how I survived every other bad day I’ve had in my life and I now just focus on that.”

Although Knopsnider’s battle is not quite identical to Ohr’s, she has a similar attitude.

“Thinking of my family and hearing their voices as I’m in that moment tears me to shreds, to the point where I burst into tears and feel I just I can’t do it,” she said. “It feels like you’re in a rut. You have this emotional pain you want to get rid of, but if you do, you just cause more issues for your family and thinking about it hurts just as bad.”

But no matter how positive a person with depression tries to be, there will always be weak moments, and often it a constant war between logic and emotion.

“When you’re in the moment of (being) suicidal, the only thing you’re really thinking about of is how. You don’t really think about others because you’re so fixated on yourself and ending your pain,” Knopsnider said.

“But it’s not really a one time thing when you’re mentally deemed suicidal. I can be perfectly happy and fine and feel like a whole new person,” Knopsnider said. “But the thoughts will always linger in the back of my mind. Some days they’re louder than other days, but they’re always there.”

For some, these thoughts make only a temporary home in their mind, while others it is an eternal combat ultimately between good and evil.

“I do have hope that they will get better,” Knopsnider said. “I’m working intensively with many professionals to figure things out. But I do think (depression) will live with me until the end of my days.”

For Samantha Anders, the pain she felt became too overwhelming as another soul loses their battle, handing over all hope to the starless darkness that consumed her. But she did not completely terminate the agony.

“I know she’s with Jesus; I know she’s free,” Mrs. Anders said. “She’s no longer in pain. I know one day I’ll see her again.

“But it still hurts. It still hurts so bad.”

Mrs. Anders, who has two other children, remembers being pregnant with her daughter.

“I carried her, I felt every kick. I know how loving and caring and full of life she was.”

Even though Sam had been fighting with severe depression and anxiety for years before her death, she created a happy atmosphere in which laughter grew.

“She had a way of making me always happy, even when I was sad. When I wasn’t feeling well, she was right beside me taking care of me,” Mrs. Anders said. “I miss having coffee, ice cream, and doing our nails. She always had me laughing hysterically. Sometimes I would forget I was her mom.”

The relationship between Sam and her mother was far greater than a stereotypical mother-daughter relationship.

“Sam loved unconditionally,” Mrs. Anders said. “She even wrote a song for me.”

The song in which portrays how highly Sam thought of her mother also depicts the effort she put forth to strive through the hurt that “burrowed” into her bones.

“You treat every day like it’s Christmas,” Sam wrote. “People only want to be nice in December/You showed me it doesn’t hurt to pay/ A little kindness to someone who’s feeling gray.”

Even with everything Sam battled with on a day-to-day basis, her mother said she put forth greater effort in creating a type of happiness for those surrounding her that cannot be duplicated.

And with just a mutter of a word, the sunshine world they lived in turned to plastic as eerie darkness spilled through the fallen sun. There will be no more coffee dates, no more songs played, no more hugs exchanged – many firsts got destroyed with the coming of Sam’s last breath. There will be no more laughter shared between sisters and no strum of the guitar upstairs. There will be no prom dress shopping or walking down the aisle. Just a hurting family struggling to fill the hole left in their home.

“It’s important to be kind,” Joyce Anders said. “Our words are powerful. If you’re hurting or struggling, reach out to someone. Your life is important. You have purpose.”

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