Jordan Burnham doesn’t remember that moment senior year when he pulled the screen from his bedroom window and dove nine stories down. Miraculously, he survived falling more than 100 feet, but has spent years recovering from a broken fibula, tibia, femur, jaw, shattered wrist and head injury. “It’s not that I necessarily wanted to die,” Jordan recalls over lunch at Union Station after speaking at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. “But the part of me that had depression and felt pressure, I wanted that part to die.”
Teen’s Depression Caused Lack of Motivation and Sleep Problems
Burnham is far from alone: Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10 and 24 and results in about 4,600 lives lost each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More youths survive suicide attempts than die. A recent nationwide survey of U.S. high school students found 16 percent reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan and 8 percent reported trying to take their own life in the preceding year.
Weeks before Burnham attempted suicide, he found himself falling asleep in class, lacking motivation to do homework and watching his grades slide along with his hopes of getting a scholarship to college like his older sister. He didn’t know what was wrong or the symptoms of depression. “If I have a cold, I know I have a cold because I know the symptoms,” he says. “But I didn’t know what depression was.”
Teen Struggled with Being a Minority in Mostly White High School
Burnham says one of his struggles was being one of few black students in a mostly white high school. “I felt like I was carrying the weight of the black community on my back,” he says. “Suburban white kids would say I acted white. Well, what is acting black? I would think, ‘I’m not white, so you are demeaning me.’”
He says he felt like he was encountering prejudice and stereotypical thoughts of what a black male should be. “You’re ‘ghetto and hood.’ Or, if you dress a certain way, date a white girl, act white,” you’re perceived another way. “I don’t think kids in high schools realize it’s so demeaning.”
Self Medication with Alcohol is Common Among Depressed Teens
A varsity golfer and baseball player, Burnham says he was the “class clown” at Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, Pa., before he started struggling with depression at age 14. That’s when Burnham secretly began self-medicating with alcohol to numb the pain, which unbeknownst to him only made his condition worse. After his father, the school’s athletic director, found a stash of alcohol bottles Burnham had hidden, he was horrified. Both his parents were Christians, “straight-edged” and barely touched alcohol, while his sister Tara had been the high school valedictorian with a Penn State scholarship. Burnham feared he would end up in community college, which he said was “incredibly taboo.” He still had not taken the SAT or ACT and was not taking depression medication he had recently received from a doctor. “I was disappointed in myself and using alcohol to cope with things,” he says. “I remember thinking, I can never contribute to any society.”
Teen Survives and Begins Long Journey to Recovery
Burnham recalls learning in physics class from a former firefighter that falling five stories was fatal. He decided to jump from nine. Somehow, he landed on grass on the back of his stomach and survived. But his suicide attempt launched Burnham into an intensive struggle to mend not only his bones, but also his mind. His left hand was “hanging on by a thread,” and he underwent three operations a week. Doctors operated on his jaw from the inside, avoiding scarring his face, which he is grateful for today. Now Jordan travels to high schools around the country – he has been to hundreds – speaking about his experience to bring awareness of teen depression. He sees a psychiatrist, takes meds religiously and is dedicated to helping others.
Josh Anderson Foundation Informs about Teen Depression to Prevent Suicide
Jordan tours with Lauren Anderson, a striking young woman and graduate of Langley High School in Virginia whose younger brother Josh committed suicide in March 2009 when she was a senior at UVA. After two years in investment banking, Anderson switched gears and founded The Josh Anderson Foundation to provide teens with mental health education and support in an effort to keep them from turning to suicide. Anderson says depression can affect any young adult, including those who appear to have it all, like her younger brother, a handsome athlete. Josh, she says, was expelled from Langley High School for marijuana and sent to South Lakes High School. He was seeing a therapist, was a good lacrosse player and was getting recruited for football. But he suffered from depression. When he was caught a second time with pot, he faced a disciplinary hearing and took his own life.
Depression is a Chemical Imbalance of the Brain
“I bring this message that it’s okay to talk about these issues,” Anderson says. “You’re not alone…There is a stigma that is self-caused. Someone is weak or not trying hard enough. There’s still a misconception that Johnny is weird or his family is messed up. It is a chemical imbalance of the brain. It’s an organ of the body that we don’t know that much about.”
For more information: http://joshandersonfoundation.org/resources/