MCLEAN, Va. (WUSA9) -- After the suicides of four Fairfax County teenagers this year, a group of students who have struggled with depression are speaking out.
They are sharing their stories to help other teens learn ways to cope with mental illness, believing that talking will help erase the stigma of depression and save lives.
"I just didn't feel like myself. Down in the dumps and all gloomy. Nothing really seemed happy. Life wasn't meaningful for me and I had no clue why and that bothered me the most," said Jack Saunders, about his depression which started in 7th grade.
Will Rau traces his depression to an awkward adolescent problem in 6th grade. He says, "When I had to hide the deodorant in the waste basket at Spring Hill Elementary so I could apply it in the bathroom because I smelled bad."
That repeated experience led to self- doubt, anxiety, and eventually depression when Will entered Langley High School. "When I got to High School, it was elevated even more because high school stress is just ridiculous."
Now a senior, Will is finally getting help for his depression, but he learned the hard way and almost died.
"It was one night, I was feeling terrible. I was feeling very impulsive. And I stole my brother's car keys and went out on the freeway and crashed going 95 (mph) and I survived…After it I was like, wow, I just tried to kill myself," recalled Will.
It was a huge wake up call for Will. He talked to his parents and got the help he needed. Counseling and medication and a new focus on coping methods. For Will, it's music.
Jack also nearly killed himself. He chugged more than a fifth of vodka at a pool lock in and wound up at a hospital. That's when his parents found out he'd been using alcohol to self-medicate.
"They ended up finding out when they got the phone call that I passed out in the bathroom," said Jack, a junior at McLean High School.
Jack sees a therapist and says he is weaning himself off of medication. He is also learned to cope with bad feelings by focusing on happy thoughts. He says he has been told he has a gene mutation and that a diet supplement recommended by a nutrition has helped immensely.
Jack, Will and other young people from Woodson and Thomas Jefferson High Schools along with a few high school graduates will share their stories at a Teen to Teen Mental Health Summit Thursday, June 5, from 7-9:00 p.m. at the McLean Community Center.
It is sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition, Active Minds, and the Josh Anderson Foundation, named for Lauren Anderson's brother who took his own life.
"The biggest factor that leads to suicide is an untreated mental illness…and we find that sigma and shame are really what halts people from getting the help and getting the treatment that they need," said Lauren.
The teens sharing their stories don't want to imply that they've overcome depression. Rather, they want other teens to understand that they've learned to cope with their mental illness, much like people learn to live with diabetes or addiction.
"I want other teens to know that they're not alone and that it's okay to reach out for help. And that they shouldn't feel embarrassed or scared to ask their parents or their peers for help," said Jack.
Will summed it like this, "You have to act on your depression. You can't let it control you."
You can hear Will and Jack, along with the others, explain in detail how they got help and what they do to cope with their mental illness Thursday night. To reserve you seat, and get more information go here.