LAFAYETTE, Calif. — High school sophomore Kelly Morimoto says when her friend first came to her to talk about his depression she was “shocked.” No one, after all, had ever spoken to her about how to respond in these kinds of situations.
“I didn’t believe him [at first] because he seemed so normal all the time … like any other kid,” recalls Morimoto, 16, of the encounter in her freshman year. Not knowing what to say, she urged her friend to seek counseling, but he was “non-responsive. He didn’t want to seek help because he saw it as giving up.”
Morimoto – who attends Bentley Upper School, a private high school in Lafayette, an East Bay suburb outside San Francisco – is one of a number of young people in California who act as de-facto “first responders” for peers coping with mental health issues, despite having little to no training.
Some 30 percent of adolescents in California report experiencing depression or related feelings, such as anger, anxiety or guilt, according to Kidsdata.org. As with Morimoto’s friend, many of these young people turn to their peers first for help.
“He talked to me about it a lot. There would be phone calls where he’d be sitting there with a knife in his hands. It was intense,” says Morimoto. “I remember being really worried that I was going to miss his call, [and] a chance to save his life. It was a lot of responsibility.”
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