Last night I attended a presentation on depression in teenagers, courtesy of HillsValley Coalition and the Ganley Foundation for Mental Health Awareness.
It was hard to listen to Ann Ganley speak, her voice breaking as she talked about the son she lost to suicide at the age of 22. Jimmy Ganley suffered from undiagnosed depression. As she spoke, we watched a repeating slide show of his pictures, starting with a beaming little boy in pajamas and running to the strikingly handsome high school athlete. He looked like someone with whom any of us would gladly change places. But he lived with a burden of pain he kept to himself. Ultimately he believed the only relief lay in ending his life.
Jordan Burnham also seemed the envy of his peers-- loving family, bright, handsome young athlete-- but he shared the burden of depression. He also made an attempt to end his life.
The difference is, Jordan was able to speak to us himself last night, due to a miracle of survival when he fell nine stories from his bedroom window.
In the two years since, Jordan still copes with his illness. But he also tells people his story, so that we can spread the word about depression, and hopefully help to save a life.
When I asked Jordan what advice he would give the parents I work with on how to help their children cope, he told me three things:
One-- ask about feelings. Don't say "how are you doing" when you should be asking "how are you feeling?" -- and mean it.
Two-- when you discuss the day with your kids, ask about highlights -- and lowlights. Don't be uncomfortable listening to and talking about negative feelings-- it's necessary to help your children learn that they are not alone in having them, and more importantly, how to COPE with them.
Three-- be relatable to your kids. Talk about your own challenges and worries and how you handle them.
I was reassured to hear that his advice reinforced that of STEP. With STEP we learn to draw on empathy and reflective listening techniques, teaching ourselves and modeling for our kids how to acknowledge feelings. With I-messages, STEP teaches us how to articulate our feelings, good and bad, without accusing or offending.
Though he's a very lighthearted and engaging speaker, and made us laugh despite the evening's topic, Jordan became very serious when he gave me this advice. I was touched by that, and by his sincere desire to keep other kids from suffering as he did. He said, "We can't choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we cope."
Thank you, Jordan-- and Jimmy-- for the education.
For more information: www.GanleyFoundation.com