Breaking Down the Truth About Depression: Information for Teens
The Voice at the End of the Line
Unsure of how to help a suicidal friend three years ago, Freddie Tunnard called the Samariteensí helpline to get support. Now Freddieís voice greets suicidal teens and their friends when they call desperate for someone to listen. Teen Voices visited the Boston office of Samariteens, a branch of the Samaritans, to find out what keeps this 18-year-old volunteering her time each week to help other teens.
Teen Voices: Can you explain what Samariteens is and what you do?
Freddie Tunnard: Samariteens is a suicide hotline for teens, but I donít think that completely describes it. Most of the callers are not necessarily suicidal. When the phone rings, I never know what to expect. Callers may be depressed and want to talk because theyíre lonely and havenít spoken to anyone all day, or a caller may be someone whoís suicidal and is reaching out for help. Maybe they donít want to commit suicide, they just want to talk. My job is to listen and be helpful in any appropriate way.
Teen Editors Janel Odigie (left) and Le Pham (right) with Freddie Tunnard at the Samariteensí office in Boston.
TV: What is the average number of callers Samariteens gets a day?
Freddie : On average, we get twenty to twenty-five calls a day. Most calls are from females.
TV: What kind of advice do you give?
Freddie : We donít give advice. The number one thing we learn in training is that weíre here to listen. Itís really hard because often theyíll call saying ďWhat should I do?Ē and I canít answer that for them. Iím here to listen to their problems and show them that I care about them and that I donít want them to do anything that would be harmful to their health or to themselves. Itís about listening and offering yourself as a person who cares because a lot of teens donít have anyone to talk to.
TV: What motivated you to volunteer?
Freddie : I have been volunteering here for three hours a week for two years. It takes a certain type of person to volunteer. Most of us have been affected in some way by suicide and/or depression and want to help others. During my freshman and sophomore years of high school I had a very good friend who was suicidal. I was very overwhelmed and didnít know what to do about it. I called Samariteens on behalf of my friend, as what is called a ďthird party caller,Ē asking what to do. The volunteer I spoke with really helped me get through that time. A year after I made that phone call, I got the courage to call Samariteens to volunteer.
TV: Can you tell us about your training to become a Samariteensí volunteer?
Freddie : The training is a total of 30 hours. You start by learning the basics on the statistics of suicide, and then you learn how to take a call. You also role-play talking to someone as if you were answering their call. They really prepare you for all situations. I was extremely comfortable taking my first call.
TV: What skills have you acquired from volunteering?
Freddie : Iím a better listener now. I have realized there are a lot of people who want to talk and have nothing said back to them. Many people want that and I think thatís the greatest skill that I have taken from volunteering. If thatís the best thing I can offer, then Iím happy.
TV: What are the causes that female callers give for their depression?
Freddie : Some girls call because they had a tough day at school and they want to talk about it. Other girls call because they are in serious situations, such as being victims of abuse, being pregnant, or suffering from eating disorders. These callers may be overwhelmed and itís vital that they are taking the steps to reach out for help.
TV: Why is it important to have teens answer calls on the hotline?
Freddie : Itís really crucial that teens who are depressed are able to empathize with other teenagers who are there to listen. Adults donít know what itís like to be a teenager right now. By being a teen, it is easier to understand because we can identify with the situations, and that is what itís all about. The callers have the option of whether or not to share their names. Regardless if the calls are anonymous or not, thereís no judgment passed and none of the calls are traced.
TV: What advice would you give us if we have a friend who we think is depressed?
Freddie : The most important thing is to listen. If your friend is reaching out to you, thatís a good sign. If your friend comes to you, you shouldnít have to handle it on your own. There are resources like Samariteens that you can use to help your friend.
It is very important to keep in mind that depression is not a mood. Depression is a very serious mental illness that causes severe symptoms that persist for at least two weeks. If you are suffering in an ongoing way from the problems below, please confide in someone you trust, and get help immediately.
- Withdrawal from friends and family.
- Feeling irritable, angry or hostile.
- Feeling sad, gloomy, or hopeless most of the time.
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits.
- Feeling tired most of the time.
- Thoughts of death, suicide, or hurting yourself.
- Having difficulty concentrating.
- Frequent crying for no particular reason.
- Aches and pains.
Last revised: Feb 2008
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