Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: “Should I Send an Anonymous Letter to My Friend’s Parents?”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

This year I have gotten close to a girl in my circle of friends who has many health and mental health problems. To start, she has cystic fibrosis, which requires a lot of self-care including breathing treatments and medication. CF will already shorten her life considerably and there is no cure. If she takes care of herself, she could live to about 40 or 50. In addition to CF she also has diabetes and liver cirrhosis, but she smokes weed, is anorexic and bulimic, abuses Xanax and Vyvanase, and sometimes drinks. Her mental problems don’t stop at drug abuse and eating disorders, though: she is clinically depressed and also has an anxiety disorder that combine to give her panic attacks and breakdowns.

She lives at school most of the time and her parents are generally unaware of the damage she is doing to herself. She took off a semester for medical leave, but she has not made progress in trying to help herself. If anything, she has gotten worse. One of her housemates is an ex-hookup and she undergoes a lot of stress as a result of living with him, but she won’t move out. She expresses suicidal and depressed thoughts on Twitter and gets delusional ideas like writing a book on her experience working at Hooters as a feminist or moving to Philadelphia to be a stripper (I respect anyone else’s choice to strip, but my friend is not in the right state of mind to choose that work). She is contentious with her friends and causes us a lot of drama, stress and worry.

HELP! What should I do? Despite their strained relationship with my friend, I am considering sending an anonymous letter to her parents explaining what I listed above in more detail. I’m afraid that I’ll make her life even worse. — Concerned Friend

66 comments… add one
  • katie

    katie July 16, 2012, 9:12 am

    wow. thats shitty. i dont know whats worse- telling her parents, who you say have a strained relationship with her, or not telling, and letting your friend slowly (or not so slowly…) kill herself.

    i think that ultimately, you have to tell someone. you cant just sit back and let somebody do this to themselves. is there anyone else you can tell? what exactly does a “strained relationship” between this girl and her parents mean? would they even be able to/want to help her?

    you said your at a school.. maybe the best course of action would be to tell a counselor or a professor of some kind. your college *should* have some kind of resources to deal with this…

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  • parton_doll

    parton_doll July 16, 2012, 9:51 am

    My friend committed suicide in college after his second attempt. Drug use and depression seemed to be the underlying causes. He would say all the time he wanted to die. At first I just thought he was trying to get attention, but after a while he scared me enough that I told one of our college officials confidentially (we were both in the honors college at our school). She ended up contacting his parents and also pointed me in a direction to help for myself so that I would know how to deal with him. I didn’t know his parents at the time and didn’t know how to talk to them. I also considered an anonymous letter but figured that they wouldn’t pay attention to something like that without having any real context behind it.

    Eventually my friend left school after his first suicide attempt and was eventually found dead. His parents tried to get him help. Maybe he was too far gone. Maybe he didn’t want to be helped. I would advise you to tell someone at school. omeone you really trust that can either help you or point you in the right direction for help. If you really feel strongly, tell her parents, but be prepared to lose your friend. Sometimes, I regret not telling my friend’s parents. But I learned in my experience at least that we are not qualified to handle someone else’s darkness. Please seek out resources at your school who are better able to direct you in the next step. Talk to your own parents for guidance. I hope and pray that you will be able to get a positive outcome.

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    • parton_doll

      parton_doll July 16, 2012, 11:10 am

      When I said tell her parents, I meant to tell them and not be anonymous about it. If your friend finds out about it, she may be upset with you and not want to speak to you after that. Again, not saying this is the route you should go, but if you choose to tell them, don’t be anonymous about it.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 1:29 pm

      Very sad situation here. I second your comments though. Too many friends lost too soon. Tell her parents, or school counselors. Do as much as you can, even if it risks your friendship. Trust me, if God forbid something happens to her, you will know you did everything in your power.

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  • avatar

    bethany July 16, 2012, 9:55 am

    I don’t really have any suggestions about what to do, but the one thought that came to me was that her parents probably have an idea of what’s going on. If she’s still in college, she’s probably still on their health insurance. So her parents would be able to see all claims from doctors, pharmacies, hospitals… So in terms of her physical health, they’re probably more aware than you realize.

    As for her mental state, it sounds pretty bad, and probably above what you can deal with on your own. I agree that you should talk to a counselor or someone at school about how to deal with this. Also, you need to talk to your friend! Don’t be accusatory or harsh, but just talk to her. Try to listen as much as possible, and be there for her. CF is a shitty disease. They’ve come a long way in treating it over the past few decades. When I was young I knew a girl with CF and when she was born they didn’t expect people with the disease to live into their 30s. Your friend is living a very stressful, hard life, with real physical problems… She could really benefit from speaking with a professional.

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  • avatar

    Clare July 16, 2012, 9:56 am

    Have you already talked to your friend about your concerns? I think that could be a good place to start. And more colleges have counseling services that are often free, so you could suggest that to her. If she’s expressing suicidal thoughts, I think you definitely need to do something — I think writing a letter and signing it or calling her parents would be better than an anonymous letter, though.

    Something that strikes me as strange is that you think her parents might now know what’s going on — I just mean that if they know that their daughter suffers serious health problems, how they could be willing to be (and stay) out of the loop. You’d think that they’d try to do anything to fix a strained relationship and would come visit at school. Does your friend go home during school breaks? How could her parents not know?

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  • avatar

    GatorGirl July 16, 2012, 10:09 am

    Go to your schools mental health offices and ask for their advise. Hinting at suicide is not something to take lightly.

    Also, if some how this girl finds out you are the one trying to get her help- she will most likely be royally pissed at you for a while. If she gets proper treatment and is better, she might stop being mad at you. But I would just be prepared for some negative reactions from her.

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  • avatar

    Michelle.Lea July 16, 2012, 10:10 am

    I would also send a letter to the school as well as her parents.

    I can definitely see how parents wouldn’t know, especially if she isn’t at home full time. Unless you’re right there when things are happening, I would imagine half the people around her aren’t really aware of what’s going on.

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  • rilooyah

    rilooyah July 16, 2012, 10:13 am

    Yes, definitely tell someone at school. Go to Health Services, or whatever it is called, and ask someone who you should speak to regarding this. At the least, you yourself may want to talk to a counselor or something about the situation.

    I dont think the anonymous letter is the way to go, especially since you dont know her parents and what their likely reaction may be. Your friend may even be able to diffuse the situation with a “omg,-someone-is-out-to-get-me-of-course-Im-taking-care-of myself” kind of brushoff.

    That this situation is stressing you out is obvious from your letter. Get some help yourself, and ask how you can then help your friend.

    I also agree about talking to her non-judgmentally. See what she has to say.

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  • avatar

    Lindsay July 16, 2012, 10:15 am

    I’m not really sure how you could make her life worse because this sounds pretty bad already. I also am not sure what you mean by “strained.” I imagine that she’s somewhat confrontational with them and maybe they fight a lot? Either way, the possibility that they could help her is much more important than whatever their problems are.

    A few people have mentioned their doubt that her parents don’t know about this stuff. But for someone who is at school all the time, I’m sure that depression, anxiety, drinking, etc., are pretty easy to hide. And if she doesn’t get along with her parents, then I assume she doesn’t spend extended periods of time hanging out with them when she is home.

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  • avatar

    Anna July 16, 2012, 10:20 am

    How well do you know this girl’s parents? The reason I ask is that if they are anything like my parents you could very well ruin her life by telling them about her drug use. I know that if my parents got an anonymous letter saying I ever used drugs (even if the letter said I smoked one joint 10 yrs ago) they would call the police and at least attempt to get me arrested. Drug conviction = no more college scholarships and no chance of ever getting a decent job. You’re fucked for life after that. Stripping may be her only career option at that point.

    Have you tried talking to your friend and simply telling her that you’re concerned? I would start there. If she still seems depressed and suicidal, I would talk to a school counselor about the depression/suicide attempts and leave out the drug use because the school may be required to call the police if drug use is reported, and then we’re right back to criminal record, fucked for life, no career ever.

    Just curious, does your school have a Good Samaritan policy? When I was in college, I was active in a group called SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy) and we successfully got one passed on the Kent State campus. A Good Samaritan policy means that a student can report drug use or other illegal activity in an emergency situation with no legal implications/suspensions/loss of student aid etc. For example, if you are at a party and someone is drunk to the point of alcohol intoxication or OD’ing on some other drug, you can call for help without getting them or yourself in trouble. If your campus does have such a policy, that would definitely help you in this case.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl July 16, 2012, 10:27 am

      Great advice and points to think about Anna. Contacting the parents could make her life even more messed up than it is now- not something I thought of.

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    • avatar

      Anna July 16, 2012, 11:16 am

      Ugh, I meant to say alcohol poisoning….that’s what happens when you DW after being awake for well over 24 hours. And yet I can’t fall asleep; my brain is just slowly shutting down.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 1:32 pm

      You raise an interesting and fair point, but I gotta add I’d rather have a friend in jail than a friend in a coffin. I know, sounds dramatic, but its true.

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      • avatar

        Anna July 16, 2012, 7:50 pm

        And how do you think suddenly having a criminal record and not being able to get a job is going to affect her in terms of her depression and suicide thoughts? Don’t you think that would just make her want to die more? I know if it were me it would.

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      • avatar

        Anna July 16, 2012, 7:52 pm

        Not to mention the person who purposely narced on you and got you locked up = not a friend anymore.

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      • avatar

        Christy July 17, 2012, 9:09 am

        Honestly, though, you’re breaking the law. Whether or not the law is bad or wrong, it’s still in effect. Getting arrested is the chance you take for smoking pot. In my opinion, if you’re not OK with the chance of getting in trouble for it, you shouldn’t do it. (Like how high school seniors who want to get scholarships shouldn’t drink underage–the consequences aren’t worth it to them.)

        (This is more of a broader point. In a general case, I don’t think you should “out” someone’s drug use to their parents. I’m not sure how I feel about this particular letter. I just wanted to raise this debate with you.)

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      • Budj

        Budj July 17, 2012, 9:14 am

        For pot it is pretty tough to get arrested as a casual user. Dirty paraphenalia is like up to a year in jail (that’s the bad thing)…but just don’t drive around with dirty glassware? If you don’t carry so much on you it looks like you have intent to sell (like 25 g in NY I think) then it isn’t a massively huge issue. A fine, but no jail time.

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      • Budj

        Budj July 17, 2012, 9:15 am

        and even with the glassware I doubt they would put you away for a year…unless you were a fuck up already that they wanted to “teach a lesson”

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      • avatar

        Christy July 17, 2012, 9:21 am

        Right, I was just mirroring Anna’s language. My broader point is that if you’re breaking the law–smoking pot, speeding, occasionally running red lights (I’ve done all three of these)–then you’re risking whatever consequences come from that. Arrest is unlikely for all three.

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      • Budj

        Budj July 17, 2012, 9:34 am

        haha – sorry…sometimes I get too specific and too literal 🙁

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      • avatar

        Anna July 17, 2012, 10:19 am

        Depends on where you live. In Ohio, they can arrest you for one roach in your ashtray. It’s a misdemeanor that you have to list on every job application for the rest of your life. Those are the consequences I’m talking about, not the fines/jail time. It’s hard enough to get a job in this shitty economy; if you have a drug conviction it’s even less likely and that’s why there’s no such thing as a drug dealer who has reformed and now has a white collar job – no white collar job will hire them ever no matter how long ago the crime was. So they keep on selling and remain a criminal, because the system gives them no other option.

        If someone gets busted by chance, yes, that’s a risk they took and it’s shitty luck. But if your “friend” narcs on you and is the direct reason you can never get a job again, IMO they’re not a true friend.

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  • avatar

    Leah July 16, 2012, 10:25 am

    I’m not sure what your motivation is for keeping the letter anonymous. Is it because you don’t want to hurt your friendship with this girl? Or because you think she’ll feel betrayed or threatened by your telling her parents about her behavior? A lot of the advice that Wendy and the commenters give about offering help to acquaintances is to butt out (see the shortcuts last week for an example) but I think that this situation is different. This girl’s behavior and mental state is potentially very dangerous and you don’t know her very well. Frankly, I think you’d be a much bigger help to this girl if you try to get her the help she needs than trying to continue to be her friend.

    This girl has a ton of problems and it’s not clear if she’s currently in therapy or getting any regular help for her mental issues. You say that she suffers from clinical depression and an anxiety disorder, but her delusions of grandeur make me think that she might actually have bipolar disorder. Late teens and early twenties are when mental illnesses start to manifest and it can be difficult to know what’s actually going on. I had a friend who appeared to have severe anxiety at that age, including terrible panic attacks, but was eventually diagnosed as bipolar. Her doctors also looked into whether or not she could be schizophrenic, which is another possibility for your friend. The bottom line is, only trained professionals can figure out what’s going on with this girl and the correct diagnosis is the only way for her to get proper treatment for her issues. Self-medicating through illegal drugs and controlling her food intake will only make things work. But being put on medication for the wrong kind of mental disorder can also potentially make things worse (the medications for bipolar disorder and anxiety, for example, work differently).

    I would contact her parents or, as parton_doll did, contact school authorities. And I would do it using your real name so they can follow up with you. This will also demonstrate how concerned you really are for this girl’s safety. I would consider asking around to your other mutual friends to see if they would add their names as well. I would make a written list of all of her behavior that seems dangerous (drug abuse, eating disorder, breakdowns) and then work down from there. Don’t embellish, but if you truly think she’s a danger to herself or others you need to spell out exactly how. It might seem mean to go behind this girl’s back and it’s sure as hell going to be uncomfortable, but which is the greater risk? Losing out on this friendship or standing by while she hurts herself? When my own friend was in treatment for her issues but still very much in trouble, I did call her parents one night and told them I thought she needed to be hospitalized. I couldn’t save our friendship because she was too sick to be a friend to me, but I’m proud that I did everything I could think of to try to save HER.

    Just a final note. It’s important to recognize that the only thing in your power is to try to get this girl help. You can’t guarantee that she’ll be given help by her parents, and you can’t control whether or not she accepts the help if it’s offered. I encourage you to do what you can, though. You might make her life “worse” in the short term because facing mental illness is difficult, but you would be helping her in the long run. She may get mad at you, but so be it. She has so many issues and seems so incapable of dealing with them that she’s unlikely to get better on her own and a true friend would want to help.

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    • avatar

      amy July 16, 2012, 11:01 am

      The hurt of having her be mad at you will be much less than the guilt you would feel if you were too afraid to do anything.

      Excellent response, Leah

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    • avatar

      spark_plug July 16, 2012, 11:15 am

      I would also reach out to the school officials first. I’m thinking about how my parents would react if they got a letter like this about me.. they’d probably have no idea what to do and how to react. I think my dad would probably call me up and start yelling me in the hopes that some ‘tough love’ would get my mind straight. That’s probably going to make the situation worse though.

      I would contact the school officials first as well. You don’t know about her relationship with her parents, if they really understand how to treat situations like this or what their reaction will be. I think that they do need to know, but right now you’re much better off talking to someone who has been trained to handle these situations.

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  • avatar

    amy July 16, 2012, 10:59 am

    I would reach out to the parents and see what happens. She’s in trouble and it seems like you’ve tried to talk to her about it. It’s not surprising that the parents might not know. As a family, we didn’t know that my sister was facing issues while living a few hours away after college until she attempted suicide. After the suicide attempt, everything came out into the open. Thankfully, she was unsuccessful ( I don’t think she ever planned to be, she took a ton of pills and then called an ambulance which means she was reaching out for help) but being hours away, we had no clue and we were shocked.

    You could even put your name on the letter, it doesn’t have to be anonymous, and if she is a danger to herself, her parents can commit her against her will to receive help. You can’t really do much about it if she won’t do it on her own, but if she is a danger to herself, the parents can have her committed, even if she is over the age of consent.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant July 16, 2012, 11:07 am

    My little brother was having a rough time when he was first away at school. One of his roommates called my mom and let her know how serious his depression was, and we were so, so, so grateful.

    While we knew he was struggling a bit with school, aside from knowing his grades being in the crapper, we didn’t really know what was happening. He was too far away and we didn’t see him often, so we didn’t know how bad things had gotten.

    Please tell this girl’s parents. I suggest you not do it anonymously. I don’t think it matters whether you know them or not. We didn’t know my brother’s roommate, but maybe we would have been more skeptical if it was an anonymous letter.

    P.S. This roommate is one of the few friends my brother has hung onto from that period of his life, so if you’re worried this will drive her away, well, it may just drive you closer.

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  • avatar

    Elizabeth July 16, 2012, 11:21 am

    What’s delusional about writing a book about working at Hooters as a feminist? Maybe an outlet like that is something that she needs and can turn some of her pain, depression and rage into something positive.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant July 16, 2012, 11:29 am

      Maybe that was just an example. Maybe she’s having an different idea like that everyday. Maybe she’s a poor writer and while its a neat idea, its not really a feasible goal for her.

      I personally think its an interesting idea and would enjoy reading such a book, and I agree such project would be a great outlet. But I could also see if the friend was spastically saying “I’m going to do x! I’m going to do y! No, I’m going to do z!”, taken with all the other observations, it could be seen as worrying behavior.

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      • avatar

        amy July 16, 2012, 11:41 am

        To be honest, it could be a manic high of bi polar. We have no idea, bottom line, the girl needs help. When on a high of bi polar, the person can do anything. They don’t sleep for days, they have wild thoughts that change all the time, etc. etc. They can also have very low periods where they can’t get out of bed.

        We aren’t here to airmchair diagnose though, I saw that as a really high expectation that might be related to whatever is going on with her. Combining the book with everything else is what makes it worrisome.

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    • avatar

      trix July 19, 2012, 1:41 pm

      Maybe she doesn’t actually work at Hooters?

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  • avatar

    SweetPeaG July 16, 2012, 11:30 am

    Great points from everyone!

    I would tell her parents, whether you choose to remain anonymous or not. I know you say the relationship is strained, but knowing a family member is in danger often makes all previous conflict disappear. To her parents, she is probably still their little girl. Who obviously needs some extra love and help at this time. Give them a chance to do give her that love and help.

    But, maybe leave her drug use out of it. That can often cloud people’s perceptions of a situation. And, as Anna said, you wouldn’t want her getting reported for something like that. Tell them you are worried she has an eating disorder. Tell them you’re worried she is depressed and suicidal. Tell them you are worried she isn’t taking care of herself and her illness. That will probably be plenty enough information to get the ball rolling.

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    • avatar

      amy July 16, 2012, 11:42 am

      Also, if the parents react badly and don’t help in a way that is beneficial, the friend still has other options to take. Like going to the school etc. I would try the parents first though.

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  • avatar

    spark_plug July 16, 2012, 11:49 am

    I wonder if behavior is a reaction to her illness. I don’t know much about CF but from the LW it seems like a pretty intrusive and life changing disorder. Basically, you have to be on your best behavior to live to your 40’s and 50’s – an age these days where many women are getting married and having children for their first time. I don’t think that most people, particularly teenagers, react well to knowing that they have about 20-30 years to live.. a very different life from everyone else. If I was in her position, I’d probably be depressed, anxious and drowning the emotional pain of that with drugs as well. There are 5 stages of grieving when some passes or during a break up, but these apply to people as well. It sounds like she’s in the denial/anger stage.

    I actually do think that the LW should talk to her friend’s parents now and encourage them to send her to a very qualified psychologist. As great as free school counseling is, I remember from my college days – the counselors were really great but they were more accustomed to ‘I don’t know how to handle a bad grade’ or ‘I broke up with my boyfriend’ rather than serious emotional issues.

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      SweetPeaG July 16, 2012, 11:57 am

      Agreed!

      I would be a MESS if I was given her diagnosis. I know I wouldn’t react well. I am not always great at looking on the bright side. I absolutely feel for this girl. God bless her. But, I do know that if she is able to find a way to live with more positivity, it will be good for her! Attitude counts for a lot. And who knows? Maybe she can exceed her life expectancy. And maybe they’ll have better treatments by the time she reaches 40. She should not count herself out.

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  • avatar

    Eljay July 16, 2012, 12:10 pm

    I can tell you from experience – my little girl has CF – this girl needs to get help with a swiftness. CF is an awful awful disease and takes its toll on your body, mind and spirit every minute of every day. It is an uphill battle keeping a balance of happy and healthy. She’s 12 now and was diagnosed when she was 10 months old, so it’s basically all she knows. I try so hard to make sure her life is more than medications, treatments, doctor visits and hospital stays. She is such a positive little girl and very rarely gets down, but it does happen. She asks sometimes why God gave her CF and how close I think they may be to a cure. I just try to keep her as positive as I can, make sure she has joy in her life and surround her with people who love her and pray my ass off for a cure.

    LW, your friend’s body is being beat up enough with this dreadful disease, I hope you can find a way to help her without alienating her. She needs all the support she can get right now.

    Good luck. She is lucky to have you in her life, even if she can’t see/appreciate it right now.

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    • avatar

      SweetPeaG July 16, 2012, 12:44 pm

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience!

      You sound like an amazing Mom with an amazing daughter! We live in a great day and age for medical advancements… so I will pray my ass of as well that a cure is soon forthcoming!

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        Eljay July 16, 2012, 12:59 pm

        Thank you SO much SweetPeaG!! That means so much to me. She is such an amazing girl. I would be a whiny complaining mess if I had to deal with all she has to endure. Her positivity keeps me positive, but I know it weighs on her more often than she expresses to me. I do all I can to keep communication open and she knows she can come to me about anything at all.

        Thanks again for the encouragement, kindness and prayers! You’ve made my day. 🙂

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      lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 1:34 pm

      Wow Eljay, thanks for sharing. Haven’t heard from you in a bit. Hope all is well and I’ll be sending prayers your daughter’s way.

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      • avatar

        Eljay July 16, 2012, 1:40 pm

        Aaawww thanks lbh! It’s good to be back! It’s been a very difficult couple months and I haven’t had much time for me. I’ve missed you all!

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark July 16, 2012, 12:23 pm

    Yes. Write the letter. Or just tell them. Clearly your friend needs help. Of course there is no guarantee that your efforts will get her help. But doing nothing WILL pretty much guarantee that she won’t. Contrary to popular fantasy — those who casually talk of suicide DO actually mean it. And are probably thinking about it another hundred or so times for every occasion they do bring it up.

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      lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 2:12 pm

      Sad, but true. Thought I’d mention this because of last week’s story about a guy wondering if he should’ve told his ex. I had a dear childhood friend get dumped junior year of high school. He told his ex that he would kill himself if she broke up with him. She ignored him. Less than 3 hours later, he shot himself in the head outside her house. Hurt to write that, but people really need to take these threats seriously.

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  • avatar

    Painted_lady July 16, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Do whatever you can to get her help. Whatever you can. Like Anna said, if you know her parents and know they will actually want to help, send that letter. I did something similar for a friend in college and he still tells me I saved his life. Talk to student counseling, consult a drug abuse recovery center, WHOEVER YOU HAVE TO, to make sure she gets help. But also be aware, as depressing as this is, that you may not save her. You just might not. She may be too far gone, she may refuse help, she may accept help and it doesn’t work. I say this not to scare you but to make you aware that you are right to feel responsible for helping her, but the end result is on her, not you. If whatever you do doesn’t help, it’s not your fault.

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  • Kristina

    Kristina July 16, 2012, 1:02 pm

    Severe health problems like CF can really impact one’s quality of life–she knows she won’t live as long as her peers, and she has come to the point of giving up and self-destructing. If anything, she seems like she is in denial, denial that this is her life, and especially at her age when she probably wants to be like everyone else and be carefree. Her other problems seem like her reactions to her main health issues, but ultimately, you can’t stop this behavior easily, and it’s painful to see someone go through things like this.

    You need to tell her parents, but they don’t need to know the extent of everything that is going on, especially since you say their relationship is strained. Another thing is if she won’t willingly go to help on her own, maybe there is a way to get her to see a therapist or someone to talk to at your school–if one of her roommates is worried enough about her and the living situation, maybe there is a way to get your friend into to see someone for some help. I know, that for me, one of my freshman year roommates (an ex best friend) was acting really suicidal and making death threats towards my other roommate and I that when we told the dean of student life, he was able to force her to see a counselor for her own good. Your friend obviously needs help, but you have to be careful how you approach the situation so she doesn’t back away and that she knows you’re really looking out for her.

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  • avatar

    Elle Marie July 16, 2012, 2:03 pm

    I had a good friend commit suicide when I was 14. I wish that there had been visible warning signs to tell someone – I knew he was depressed, but he was seeing a therapist and supposedly “getting help”. I later found out that he had told other friends of his suicide plans, and no one believed he would actually do it.

    Over and over again, it comes down to – would you rather your friend commit suicide while still liking you, or get help and be alive, possibly hating your guts? Having your friend get the help she needs is more important than whether or not she’s still your friend. It is an awful position to be in, but think of how awful you would feel if she commits suicide (or otherwise seriously harms herself) and you could have done something to stop it.

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    • bittergaymark

      bittergaymark July 16, 2012, 2:50 pm

      That proves my point. If you are making plans, then you are indeed very serious about it. How sad for everybody that his other friends didn’t take him more seriously, but then — they were all of 14 years old and how could they really know how serious it was… This is why we need better suicide prevention programs in the schools.

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      • avatar

        bethany July 16, 2012, 3:15 pm

        When I was in 6th grade I had a friend tell me that if she “wasn’t in school tomorrow, you know what I’ll be doing”– referring to attempting suicide. She’d dabbled in cutting herself and had made references to suicide before.

        The next day she wasn’t in school, so I went to the middle school guidance counselor and told them what she told me. They told me it was “none of my concern”. Luckily, she was ok, but it still pisses me off when I think about it!!!

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  • Leroy

    Leroy July 16, 2012, 3:07 pm

    If this situation is worth notifying someone over, then it warrants a phone call IMO. She can still ask to remain anonymous. But I think that there’s a better chance of her being taken seriously, and not being misconstrued, or ignored, if she speaks with someone personally. And I agree that it’s probably wise to focus on her psychological state, and not bring her drug use into play. That doesn’t seem to be the primary driver here.

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  • LM

    LM July 16, 2012, 3:53 pm

    LW, I feel for you. A few years ago, I had just gotten out of the military and still had many friends that were active duty… all sorts. One of them called me up late at night and was crying. Earlier in the week, I had received texts from him saying that he was upset, was drinking a lot, didn’t know his purpose in life, etc… In this call, he told me that he was so upset that he was going to throw himself off the ship. I didn’t hesitate to call the HMC, who fortunately had been on duty that night, and told her the situation and said that he needed help. This friend also happened to be gay, and this is where a lot of his problems were coming from too. He was counseled by the HMC and later called me and said thank you for helping him, though I fully expected to lose his friendship.

    Here is my point… I’m sorry that you are having a hard time with your friend, but if you really want to help her, you need to be prepared to lose her friendship. She is crying out for help, but she doesn’t know how to ask for it. Look into your college health department and see if there is someone you can go to. There should be an emergency type line for those that are getting stressed and don’t know how to cope. If she doesn’t call for help herself, they can point you in the right direction. Writing a letter to her parents won’t help because they are not equipped to help her and neither are you.

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  • theattack

    theattack July 16, 2012, 4:09 pm

    I’m not sure why everyone thinks that telling her parents will help her. It will probably just cause her stress, and her parents are likely to be angry instead of sympathetic. Also, parents are not mental health professionals. They don’t know how to deal with this stuff, but they get weird about it and act like they know what’s best. I don’t think contacting the parents is a good idea at all. I say talk to the friend, offer to go to the student mental health center with her as support, etc. You can offer to let her live with you for a while, or to at least help her move. Help her with stuff that will make her quality of life better, and support her when she has ideas for projects. It sounds like those projects are some of the only positive things in her life, so you should get excited abotu them with her and support her in them. Ask to read what she’s written about her Hooters experience. Try to get involved and be a friend. You are not a mental health professional, and you shouldn’t assume that contacting her parents will be helpful to her. The best you can do is to be awesome at what you are now: a friend.

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    • theattack

      theattack July 16, 2012, 4:13 pm

      You should also ask your friend if she’s told her parents what’s going on. Her reaction will give you an idea of what that dynamic is.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 4:21 pm

      I’m surprised you assume her parents would be angry rather than sympathetic. I can’t imagine any parent, even a shitty one, would be angry at their kid for being suicidal.

      I think you gave the LW some great extra things to do for her friend, but I think it would be unsafe and not in her friend’s best interest to pretend she isn’t threatening killing herself. Don’t offer to go with her, take her to the student health center and the very minimum would be my advice. She should be scared for her friend and contact someone, whther school counselors and/or her parents, in addition to doing the great things you suggested.

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      • theattack

        theattack July 16, 2012, 4:30 pm

        Well honestly, I didn’t remember the part about suicidal thoughts on Twitter. I just went back to reread the letter. But still, a lot of parents will be more angry about the drug abuse than concerned about their child. Obviously not GOOD parents, but without more information about her family, I wouldn’t want to assume that her parents would be supportive. That’s why I think the LW should ask her friend if her parents know what’s been going on, so she can get an idea of what her parents are like. If the LW does tell her friend’s parents, I think she should leave out the incriminating parts and only focus on the friend being depressed and suicidal and desperately needing some help.

        Ultimately though, this friend shouldn’t talk to her family without talking to her first. If it’s possible, the LW should help guide her friend to talking to her parents herself (and offering to be there with her) instead of going behind her friend’s back. Yes, it’s sometimes necessary, and it’s better to have an angry friend that’s alive, but this friend _does_ need a support system probably more than anything, so the LW should take a lot of precaution against alienating her. A LOT.

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        lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 4:36 pm

        Good call. Anna said that above kinda-that if it were her parents, they would flip out and call the cops. My reply was I’d rather have a kid in jail then a dead kid. I’ve just experienced too many losses from suicide that I take it as seriously as imaginable.
        I like this advice though. Feel out the friend to see what the parents are like, then decide who to contact and how, but also be a great friend. You gave some really good examples on how to be supportive. Its frustrating, and even annoying, to see people you care about not have their act together (see letter about my sister), so hopefully LW stays patient.

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      • theattack

        theattack July 16, 2012, 4:51 pm

        Thanks. It really is easy to lose patience with someone who keeps doing stupid or dangerous stuff, and it’s even easier to lose patience with someone who talks about being depressed all the time, because it sometimes comes across like they’re just wanting attention and don’t actually need help. (Not saying that’s the situation here at all – just that I hope the LW doesn’t start feeling that way toward her friend).

        It’s sweet that you don’t understand how a parent could be that shitty. You’re a good mom, and you’re logical, so you probably can’t possibly imagine someone not putting their kids’ safety first. I wish every parent would be like you, and we could just always assume it’s safe to tell the parents. Anna’s point is exactly what I mean though. Parents don’t always see the situation clearly.

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        lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 5:01 pm

        I never considered myself to be in a sheltered world, but maybe I am when it comes to parents. I’m thinking of the worst parent I know right now (abusive), and its still hard for me to imagine a parent wouldn’t care if they knew their kid was suicidal. Still, I have to say that telling someone in a real position to help, even if not the parent, is important.

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        bethany July 16, 2012, 4:58 pm

        Yeah, I agree with you that GOOD parents would be more concerned than mad… Unfortunately, as I’ve come to learn over the years, good parents seem to be the exception and not the rule. 🙁

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        lets_be_honest July 16, 2012, 5:03 pm

        Maybe figuring out the type of parent she has, and then contacting them about her concern, but leave out the drugs part? Oh, as I’m writing I see you suggested that.

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        qm July 16, 2012, 5:09 pm

        I totally agree with what you’re saying. In addition, her parents may not even believe in therapy, which I think no one has considered. I know my parents don’t really believe in psychology and therapists. I was in a really bad place in high school, and I never told my parents just how much I did consider suicide because they didn’t really believe in depression. This all seems so crazy because they’re educated and really do care about me, but they don’t think psychologists and therapists are for “normal” people. I think that’s even more reason to talk to the friend first, then the school, and FINALLY the parents.

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      ele4phant July 16, 2012, 5:06 pm

      You do bring up a good point. I interperated “strained” as meaning she was pushing her family away – as that’s exactly what my little brother was doing. However, “strained” could also mean the family is dysfunctional and would be unsupportative.

      It wouldn’t hurt if the LW probed a bit to figure out what kind of strained this is – but I think we can all agree the LW needs to reach out to someone in a position to help her friend, be that her family or counselors.

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    • Kristina

      Kristina July 16, 2012, 5:21 pm

      Even though I said otherwise about telling the parents earlier, I kinda agree that the parents *may* not be the best help. We don’t know how strained the relationship is, and the LW most likely doesn’t either. Coming from my own highly dysfunctional family, I would have been horrified if someone told my parents about my past problems, because I know that my parents would not have been able to adequately help because they’re too close to the situation–even though my dad is a mental health professional, sometimes parents just can’t help their own children in the best way. I think the LW should get another adult involved (preferably someone from health services/counseling) for more guidance on what to do. We don’t even know how close or far the parents are from the friend, and once someone is suicidal, it is the responsibility of friends, professors, adults–anyone that may know about her suicidal feelings–to get her the help she needs. So yes, I can see why speaking to the parents should not always be the first step of action.

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      • theattack

        theattack July 16, 2012, 5:39 pm

        Exactly. You described this so well. Too close to the situation is spot on.

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    SherBear July 16, 2012, 5:07 pm

    My best friend in college went into an extreme depression after her parents went through a bitter divorce and her own breakup (which was caused by her trust issues). She kept threatening suicide to her ex so finally we decided next time she does it we are taking it as a serious threat. I will never forget the phone call – I was just about to get into bed when my phone went off and I saw her ex’ number on the caller id. He said she had called him and said she was going to kill herself, I then had another call come in from her roommate saying that she stormed out of the apartment. So I picked up her ex and we called the police on our way to her apartment. It was one of the worst nights of my life – we didn’t hear from her for over an hour before she started calling her ex in hysterics. I was most worried about her behind the wheel of her car – either not paying attention or purposely driving into a pole/wall. She was eventually located in a hotel an hour and a half away – and I signed the papers to have her involuntary admitted to a psych ward. I knew it could be the end of our friendship but I didn’t care – I refused to carry the guilt of someone committing suicide and thinking “if only”. My mother was completely supportive and said do whatever it took to get her the help she needed – even if I failed every class that semester I can always repeat school but I would never be able to get my best friend back (I still got all As that semester, but it wasn’t my top priority).

    Flash forward 6 years and she is still one of my best friends. She admitted to me about a year afterwards that if I hadn’t intervened she probably would have ended up killing herself. Our friendship is pretty much unbreakable because of it (she knows I will ALWAYS have her back) and watching her destruct helped me admit myself to a psych ward a couple years later when I had my own breakdown (anxiety driven). Because of her I learned that mental illness is indeed an illness and not a weakness – and that getting help is a sign of strength and the only option to getting better.

    I’d recommend calling the National Suicide Hotline to find out what you can do to help a friend – that’s what I did and that’s where I learned that I could call the police and do an involuntary admission. It’s a sh*tty situation, but no matter what happens in her life you will sleep better at night knowing you did (or tried to do) something.

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    • I'm An Earth Rocker!

      Miss V July 16, 2012, 9:56 pm

      First and foremost, assure your friend that you care and are there for her. Talk with her and try to be as empathic as you can. See if you can help her find a cognitive behavioral therapist. Sometimes, families exasperate the situation due to a lack of understanding what she is feeling. The depression part (I know depression too well) is hard enough on families, but to have the chronic illnesses in addition, wow, I really feel for her. See if you can get insight into her family dynamic prior to contacting them not anonymously. Like others said, don’t mention the drug use, the laws are still so fucked up that it can destroy her professional future. Encourage her to discuss that with a cognitive therapist; a good one can help her to think things through differently.

      If, God forbid, you need to get help for her if she gets suicidal, I can almost guarantee she’ll be forever grateful that someone cared and was there for her. God bless your friend, you for being one and good luck to you both!

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope July 17, 2012, 7:56 pm

    A few years ago A friend announced he was going yo commit suicide. He was a drug addict. He was physically ill and he had been depressed for a long time. He lived in Las Vegas–thousands of miles away from his friends. He called all of us to say goodbye. Everyone tearfully said goodbye, feeling that given his history and situation,this was inevitable, But I didn’t. I called the Las Vegas police and asked them to bang down his door. They did and dragged him to the hospital against his will. But the next day he contacted me to say that he was beyond touched that someone cared enough to do that…and thank you. (He has since passed away but not by his own hand) The moral of my story—you always do everything you can to save another human being–especially someone you care about. Call everyone and anyone who can possibly help.

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    • avatar

      misslisa July 18, 2012, 1:39 am

      The power of just one person – thanks for sharing this

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