Crews on East Coast fishing boats must take special care to cover containers of blue crabs. If just one crab can make it to the top edge of the barrel, it will pull another up. Each crab helps the next until all are free.
Likewise, six Utah County adolescents who have escaped their depression, drug habits and suicidal thoughts are working to "lift up" other troubled teens. As peer counselors at Charter Canyon Hospital in Orem, they speak to school assemblies on drug abuse and suicide."When we spoke at American Fork Junior High, some kids came up after the program," said Brian, 17. "One was suicidal, and I think we got that one into a foster home. When you see the help you can give, it makes you want to do more and more. You really touch people."
Brian first sought treatment because of drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts.
"I learned that I had choices; there were other ways to do things. Charter Canyon can't fix anything, but it can show you how to fix yourself."
Matt, 16, said therapy helped him fight depression he had felt since fifth grade. "When it was the worst and I considered killing myself, I thought: `Death would be a change. Who cares?' "
Matt has not yet spoken to any groups but works with the other peer counselors to look after teenagers who have completed the program and encourages them to come to "after-care" meetings.
Peer counselors call the 10 teenagers assigned to them and ask how they are and if they need any help. During meetings, peer counselors watch their charges and write down anything they think might help the adult therapists.
Peer counselors are paid for eight hours of work each week and must undergo job training. To qualify for a position in the 3-month-old program, they must have a C or better grade-point average, have been sober for six months and be active in their own after-care.
"I enjoy the work," Matt said. "The people I call are my friends and it makes me feel good to help."
Noel, 19, said changing his attitude saved his life. "I was in for drugs and alcohol, and I thought about suicide. I'm sure I would have been dead by now if I hadn't gotten help."
Teenagers are eager to listen once they realize "it isn't going to be parent-type parental lecture," Noel said. They respond well to young speakers, and Noel tells them where to get free therapy. He hopes he's helping, but "when you've got 1,000 kids in an auditorium, there's no way to keep track of people."
But brother, David, 17, credits Noel with helping save at least one life. "I was really depressed and didn't think anyone could love me," David said. "I was going to kill myself, but Noel told me about this really good program he was in, so I admitted myself."
Speaking to schools has been rewarding, David said. At one junior high school, a student who had tried to kill herself three times agreed to consider therapy. "I like being a changing force. Maybe there's something I have that could help someone," David said.
Melanie, 18, "did almost every drug there is, used alcohol on a daily basis and attempted suicide twice.
"After I finished the program at Charter Canyon, I went back home to St. George, quit school and did nothing but drugs," she said. After going through the program a second time, she decided to stay in Utah County and finish school. "I went to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, went to therapy and tried to improve myself."
Drug abuse is very common in high schools, Melanie said.
"There is a lot more abuse than people think; there are drugs and alcohol in lockers and (exchanged) in the parking lot."
Suicidal thoughts are also common, she said, but teenagers don't always talk about them. "I never told anyone I had tried to kill myself."
Melanie said she now finds different ways to get "high," such as being with her friends, telling jokes or going to scary movies. Her problems are still there, but her response to them has changed.
She always hopes she can reach at least one person in her audience, and usually several talk to her afterward, so she feels her time is well well-spent.