Ethan was just 15 years old when he began to fall into a deep depression.
Hobbies that he once enjoyed, including collecting vinyl records and VHS tapes, no longer held any interest. He withdrew from social and extracurricular activities at school. And less than two years later, he considered dying by suicide.
At ten years old, his parents began going through a divorce. He was mature for his age, and one of his parents began talking to Ethan about the couple’s problems.
“I heard all about their financial issues, their marital problems, and things that had happened in the past,” Ethan recalled. “I wanted to fix their problems and, when I realized I couldn’t, I began to neglect my own progress. I stopped talking to people and began to withdraw.”
The depression progressed, but Ethan said he tried to put on a mask for his friends and his family. He often decided to wear a Mario costume that he had purchased to school because of the reaction he would get from his classmates.
“It would get emotion out of people. A lot of my classmates thought it was weird and funny,” he said. “For me, it was about seeing people’s enjoyment, and knowing that I had received a reaction. It showed me that I had some kind of importance.”
Around the same time, a rival high school was experiencing a significant increase in suicide among its students. More than a dozen students had died by suicide in less than a year. That’s when Ethan’s school brought in the Say Something program and the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System (SS-ARS).
The system enables students to anonymously report an issue 24/7/365 through an app, hotline, or website when they see a classmate who is at risk of harming themselves or others.
Ethan still doesn’t know who submitted an anonymous tip to report that he’d been showing signs of depression. But he credits that call with saving his life.
“If they didn’t get that call, I think it would have been inevitable,” he said, “I wouldn’t have made it.”
Authorities contacted the parents early that morning, and within hours they were driving him to the region’s children’s medical center. After being released from the hospital a week later, he began the slow road to recovery. For nearly a year, Ethan said he worked with therapists to process the situation and get answers to many of the questions he’d been asking himself.
“I was lucky in that, by the time the pandemic hit, I was already in good shape,” he said. “I was pretty secure in myself. But if this had happened during the pandemic, I don’t know if I’d be alive today.”
Not only did Ethan survive, but he thrived. He ran for student council president against a popular three-year incumbent and won. His platform was improving the mental health resources available to students. He’s also driving now and going to college full-time.
Carrie, Ethan’s mom, said she was shocked to learn just how deep her son’s struggles were. She already knew that her son was going through some problems, but wasn’t sure if it was regular teenage angst or something much deeper.
“As parents, we don’t always catch everything, but teenagers are also more likely to open up to their peers than their parents,” she said. “There weren’t any indications that he was suicidal. I’m just so thankful that someone cared enough to make that call. I don’t know what would have happened if they hadn’t.”
After receiving regular therapy and setting up boundaries with relatives about appropriate conversations, she said her son began to improve. Ethan found a sense of purpose and began to stabilize when he started working and won the class president election.
Carrie also credits the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System for helping to save her son’s life.
“I can’t understand why any school wouldn’t want to put this program into place,” she said. “I remember seeing the posters going up around the school. It’s as simple as reaching out if you have concerns about someone. Even if it saves just one life, isn’t it worth it?”