When Jordan Burnham was 18 years old, he attempted suicide by jumping out of his ninth story bedroom window.
He doesn’t remember the details of what happened nearly 10 years ago or how he survived the 90-foot fall, but he does remember the depression he struggled with and the negative coping mechanism he used years before that September day.
“I didn’t really want to die, but I wanted the part of me that was sad and depressed to die,” Burnham said.
With support of Saugus High School’s Not One More Teen Suicide Active Minds Club and the Matt Silverman Memorial Foundation, Burnham shared his story of depression, recovery and acceptance with students at the school Friday.
“You can hear a pin drop every time he speaks,” said Candace Yoder, executive director of Matt’s Foundation which funded Burnham’s appearance. “We want students to know it’s OK to have a mental health problem, it’s OK to reach out for help… Our goal is to break the stigma around this topic.”
Burnham, now a renowned mental health advocate and 2012 Emerging Humanitarian of the Year, shares his story with nearly 100 schools each year for the same reason: to end the stigma around discussing mental health problems.
“I want kids to just to have a conversation about mental health and have a conversation about stress, breakups, things they go through all the time,” Burnham said. “It’s so amazing that 30 minutes can really open up kids to talk about these issues.”
What also helps students feel comfortable discussing these issues is Burnham’s openness with his own mental health struggles.
Burnham’s struggles with depression began at a young age in Pittsburgh when he moved from a private school to a public school, where his fellow students made fun of how he dressed and talked.
Then, Burnham practiced healthy coping mechanisms by playing golf and basketball, making others laugh and talking with his sister about his struggles.
But these healthy coping mechanisms turned to negative coping mechanisms when he changed schools again and his sister went away to college. Basketball and golf were replaced with drinking and hiding what he was going through.
“I didn’t know I could walk into the counselor’s office,” he said. “I was going around with a mask and hiding who I was and how I was feeling.”
As he began his junior high school, Burnham became overwhelmed with the pressure of living up to expectations and succeeding in school and began contemplating suicide.
Later in the year, he called his girlfriend and told her he planned to overdose on pills. When she heard of his plans, she called his parents and the police who placed him in a mental health hospital.
“There I learned that we can never change the bad things that happen to us, but we change how we cope with them,” Burnham said.
However, this lesson was hard for Burnham to keep in mind when he returned to school, causing his depression to worsen and his drinking to increase during his senior year.
When his parents found a duffel bag full of alcohol in his car later that year, Burnham felt like he was only a disappointment to his parents and didn’t see the “point of living.”
“To this day I don’t remember going out that window,” he said. “I didn’t plan it, I didn’t write a note, but there was a trigger that made me think I didn’t want to be there anymore when my parents found that bag.”
After recovering from his attempted suicide, Burnham decided to share his story with a newspaper reporter and the rest is history.
Today, he hopes that sharing his struggles with depression will encourage students to have conversations about mental health, ask for help when the need it and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
“I hope that by the time I’m done speaking it makes it easier for people to have this conversation,” he said.
David Stradling, Matt’s Hero Teacher Award Winner and founder of the Saugus High School Active Minds Club, hopes that hearing Burnham’s speech will encourage students to reach out to counselors and teachers when they are in need of help.
“Silence is what is the deadly part of this,” said Stradling, who founded the Active Minds Club in September 2011 after saving a student’s life when she attempted suicide. “If you need a support system, it starts at this level. Talk to us, you are welcome at any time.”
If you or someone you know needs help, take action now by calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), The Los Angeles county Department of Mental Health’s Access Center Helpline at 1-800-854-7771 or 911. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_