Senior Combats Daily Depression

Senior+Martin+Mitchell+at+the+Columbia+Lakefront+fountain+Out+of+the+Darkness+walk+for+suicide+prevention+in+Columbia%2C+Md.+--Elissa+Britt

Senior Martin Mitchell at the Columbia Lakefront fountain Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Columbia, Md. --Elissa Britt

Senior Martin Mitchell at the Columbia Lakefront fountain Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Columbia, Md. --Elissa Britt
Senior Martin Mitchell at the Columbia Lakefront fountain Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Columbia, Md. –Elissa Britt

Last year, senior Martin Mitchell almost lost his battle with depression.

“It kind of just feels like you’ve hit a point of no return, and you’re hanging onto a rope, but the rope’s not there. You’re hanging onto the frayed edges, and you’re trying to hold them together, but you know they’re just slipping through your fingers. And it’s all black around you. And everything just falls apart,” Mitchell said.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, and according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, at least 10 percent of high school students report having attempted it.

Mitchell is part of that 10 percent.

He has suffered from depression since his third heart surgery at seven years old, when he was put on heart and antidepressant medication. He experienced a particularly rough patch last year and was absent from school for months. Mitchell says that he put a lot of pressure on himself to do well in school, and the overwhelming nature of his work was one of his greatest stress factors.

“I was, as my parents call it, “on autopilot.a�� Since I was in third grade I wanted to go to Harvard. And I was like, I’m going to do whatever I can to get the best grades and get into the school I want to a�� I was overwhelmed with work, especially with all my extracurriculars, which I didn’t want to give up because it was definitely an outlet for social interaction,” Mitchell said.

The pressures peaked on March 22, 2014, when Mitchell attempted suicide. He was taken to the hospital and stayed there for three weeks. He had his depression medication changed, participated in group therapy sessions and was given some down time before finally coming back to school.

“I’m doing a lot better. Recovery is an on-going process. You definitely reach that point where you feel a lot better, and you want to forget about everything, but you know that it’s a part of you. And you have to remember, “I can’t go back to that.a�� So after you’ve gone through it, you definitely know when you should speak up,” Mitchell said.

This experience has made Mitchell an activist in fighting depression, and he is currently working with NHS and SADD to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). He has led several RHS students to participate in the Out of the Darkness Walk in Columbia, Md., and is planning fundraisers at Chipotle and Urban Barbecue. He is also planning to sell wristbands, T-shirts and baked goods.

His partner in many of these projects is senior Sushmitha Tamilselvan, one of his closest friends.

“Watching him struggle was horrible because I knew he needed help, but I didn’t know what to doa��One night we were talking and I was becoming really worried and he stopped responding and my heart stopped. I was freaking out and I couldn’t sleepa��When I finally saw him walk into school the next morning, I ran up to him and hugged him and almost started crying,” Tamilselvan said.

Psychology teacher Christine Zafonte, with whom Mitchell also worked, thinks that there needs to be more awareness regarding depression. Zafonte pointed out that everyone she knows has somehow been affected by depressiona��whether they themselves were depressed, or a friend or family member was affected

“I think it’s actually one of the most debilitating psychological disorders right now and a�� I think more outreach programs need to be established to help,” Zafonte said.

The prevalence of depression and suicide among youth is further demonstrated by the death of Jacob “Jake” Jesuitas, a Poolesville HS senior who took his own life Sept. 30. He was honored with a moment of silence on the football field and a candlelight vigil Oct. 10 at the Poolesville skate park.

Montgomery County Police Sgt. Edward Shropshire, who came to talk to the staff leadership team, wrote an open letter to students and wants to partner with RHS to implement a suicide prevention initiative.

In his letter, Shropshire said, “[There are adults] that would be honored that you respect them enough to turn to them for helpa�� I don’t want to console your parents. I don’t want to visit you in the hospital. I have seen enough misery. I want to see you celebrate and find happiness in your lifea��”