Sam, 17, has a bright smile and is always making her friends laugh.
But in seventh grade, Sam struggled. She was trying to figure out her role in the social ladder, and her parents were fighting, and she was feeling extremely sad.
“I started being like, I can’t talk about these things,” she said. “You’re basically taught to bottle up your feelings in middle school.”
Mental health is not a common topic among middle schoolers, and for Sam, that silence caused her depression to become extreme.
Sam kept her feelings from her parents. “They just really don’t like to talk about it,” she said.
And at the time, Sam’s school hadn’t discussed mental health. “There was no talk about anything bad," she said. "Mental health is seen as a bad thing.”
Sam learned from a friend about a school counselor with whom she could discuss her problems. The counselor didn’t want to diagnose Sam, but said she might have depression.
The school called Sam’s father Randy to tell him. Randy said when he got the news about his daughter's depression he felt sad.
“I think all parents want to have the perfect child,” he said. “I think all parents want to fix the child. And so I was bummed out about it. But I was supportive, I think."
“Mostly,” Sam said.
Sam continued counseling and went to a doctor who prescribed Prozac, the antidepressant. But her home life became worse.
Her parents now argued about her. “My parents were like, ‘You gave my child depression!’ ‘No, you gave my child depression!’”
After years of fighting, Sam’s parents got divorced.
“Their divorce was actually a breath of fresh air,” Sam said. “They’re not forced to live with each other anymore.”
Sam now lives with her dad.
After being on Prozac for a few months, Sam’s doctor decided to take her off the drug. The FDA warns that it can increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Sam wanted to continue taking Prozac, but she didn’t speak up because she thought her opinion would be overlooked.
“I had no real decision in the matter,” she said.
Once off medication, Sam’s depression worsened and she didn’t know how to cope with her emotions. She heard about girls who cut themselves, and so she tried that.
Sam cut herself for about two months. She knew she had to stop, and she managed to quit on her own.
She still needed help, but she was afraid her emotions would not be taken seriously.
“I’m like, what do I need to do?” she said. “I’m having urges. I’m thinking about killing myself. I need people to help me.”
Sam took a desperate step for help. She went to the school bathroom and cut her wrists. She then bandaged her cuts with a tampon and walked down the hall to her school counselor to show her.
Looking back on that day Sam said, “It was a half-assed suicide attempt. It was a, 'I want to die, but if I could get help that would be awesome’ kind of deal.”
The school called her father and he picked her up.
“But he was extremely pissed off,” Sam said. “To me it felt like it was such a big inconvenience, like this was such a burden on him. Which made me feel even worse.
“I guess I expected people to take me seriously,” she continued. “I was met with the opposite reaction of ‘You’re an absolute idiot.’”
Recently, Sam and her father sat down to talk about this period in her life.
“I was angry,” Randy admitted. “I was angry that I was blindsided. I thought we were closer than that, and that you would have communicated how bad of a place you were in mentally.”
“Really?” Sam asked. “You thought we could talk about things?”
That’s not the relationship she remembered.
“There wasn’t really a way to talk about it," she told her father. "Plus you were going through stuff and I didn’t want to bother you with anything.”
“It’s closer now,” her dad said. “We hang out a lot more.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed.
After her suicide attempt, Randy took Sam to the hospital, where they cleaned up her cuts and let her go home. Soon after, she was put on medication again, which was what she wanted. Sam finally felt like adults took her seriously.
By the end of ninth grade, Sam recovered enough to get off depression medication. Today she is a high school senior and doing well.
These days, Sam and her dad often sit together on the porch talking. “There’s a famous phrase we used in the house,” he said: “Have I told you how much I loved you today?”
Sam believes we need to have a conversation to help people be less afraid of mental health issues.
“By talking about it more, it becomes easier to talk about.” she said. “Plus, somebody has to talk about it. So, I’ll talk about it.”
Editor's note: KUOW is omitting Sam’s last name because this story contains information regarding her mental health.
This story was created in RadioActive's Summer 2016 Intro to Journalism Workshop for high school students at KUOW. Production support from Ann Kane. The editor is Jenny Asarnow. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.