ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The life of a high schooler can be overwhelming; life’s pressures start to build — grades remain high priority, college starts to cheap into the conversation, juggling extra-curricular activities, it adds up quickly.
Madison Miller, a sophomore at Zeeland East High School, knows that battle first hand.
“Grades have always been a big thing for me and I think it is for a lot of students. It’s always been a really big source of my stress,” Miller said.
But Miller’s battle goes much deeper, as she wrestled with the typical struggles of every high schooler: Miller was fighting severe depression. Instead of thinking about math solutions or science questions, suicide consumed her mind.
“I just remember being in the showering and thinking, I could do this right now and nobody could stop me,” Miller said said she thought about suicide everyday. “I just kept thinking to myself if I have to deal with this for another week, I’m going to be dead in two.”
It was a shock to her parents. Miller opened up to her therapist, who immediately called Miller’s mother. They were in code red. The shock came from being at this point before — when Miller was around 10, suicide wasn’t just something she thought about — it was something she obsessed with.
“I would be sitting in class and I would just write a suicide note. All the time that was all I did and I did that every day,” Miller said she wrote at least five letters a day, starting with her parents. “I would just say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I did this and I just couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t keep going feeling this sad all the time.”
Madison says she knew something was different in herself, she researched what she was experiencing and learned about depression. She opened up to her mom about sexual abuse she had survived and together the two of them sought professional help.
“I went to therapy and started talking about it more,” Madison said about realizing why she was so sad. “I was open with my family, which definitely helped.”
But depression is not a curable disease, it’s an illness maintained over time with work and help. As the pressures of high school got heavier, Miller fell back into the hole of a dark depression.
“I started going down hill really really fast. I was depressed alll the time, the worst I’ve ever been,” Miller said. “I went from being open with my friends with my emotions, to completely shutting everyone out and that’s because I was suicidal and I wanted to go through with it.”
Miller wanted to end her life, she had a plan in place. There were no more suicide notes, just the idea that she had to go through with it.
“I didn’t want help and I didn’t want to get out of it, I just wanted to be done,” Miller said.
It was her friends that noticed she was acting different. Zeeland East is a be nice. school — a program through the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. The action plan is one that’s in over 160 schools throughout West Michigan, educating students on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and equipping them with the tools to help each other.
be nice. is an acronym for Notice, Invite, Challenge, and Empower. Miller is thankful her friends knew the plan. They noticed ahead of time what was “right and good” about Miller so that they could recognize a change in behavior that lasted longer than two weeks — according to the MHF that’s when there could be an issue.
“They didn’t really know 100% what was going on but they knew that something was wrong and just supported me all the way,” Miller said of her friends. “Even if it was just like little things, just showing they cared about me and showing me I wasn’t completely alone.”
“It took me a really long time to realize that. But once I did, I realized I’m not alone in this. They are willing to help me and talk to me at any time.”
With tears in her eyes, Miller said she had a conversation with her dad she’s not had in a long time — she told him she was happy.
“It might not stay like that forever. But I have learned a lot through the be nice. program and all of the stuff I’ve done through it and all of the stuff I’ve preached and said,” Miller added. “I know that will be a huge help to me in the future if I ever do start going down hill again and I think that has set a new line for me. I can’t get any lower because I have help, I have people that support.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explains risk factors and warning signs for suicide at its website. 24-hour help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255.