Jillian Yohe was 12 years old when a classmate told her to kill herself.
Since then, Yohe, 18, has tried three times.
“We were in gym class, and I accidentally hit her in the face with a dodgeball,” recalled Yohe. “She told me, 'You should kill yourself; nobody likes you, anyway.'”
The Monongahela resident, a freshman at California University of Pennsylvania, has struggled with bipolar disorder, depression and generalized anxiety disorder from the time she was 3 years old.
She believes the trauma from the death of a grandmother when she was 7 years old, along with incidents of molestation and rape, contributed to her anxiety and depression.
Twice, she attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on medication – she checked to see what a lethal dose was, she said, and popped an amount of pills that exceeded it – and once, she attempted to strangle herself with a belt.
“I'm lucky that I'm not dead,” Yohe said.
Yohe tried to self-harm by cutting her arms, but she said she didn't like the sight of blood.
Instead, she would hit herself in the head with objects and punch herself in the face.
Yohe started therapy and counseling when she was 7, and doctors diagnosed her with mood disorders when she was 16.
A turning point came during a sophomore health class at Ringgold High School, where Yohe was given an in-class assignment by the teacher to “tell us something about yourself.”
Yohe wrote, “I tried to kill myself and I was raped.”
The guidance department coordinated with Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services to provide a behavioral health therapist to meet with Yohe at the school weekly.
Over the past two years, Yohe has continued to meet with the therapist, and the counseling she receives has provided her with the support to stick with her treatment plan in order to cope with and manage her disorders.
“I've been with my therapist for two years, and she's the best person I've met. She's tremendous,” said Yohe.
Yohe also is involved in AMI Inc.'s TAP program for young adults aged 16-25, which has paired her with a peer mentor, a recovering crack addict, with whom Yohe meets weekly.
TAP holds monthly get-togethers, including holiday parties and bowling events, which Yohe attends with more than 50 other young adults.
“You make friends, and you get to know other people who are dealing with their own problems. It's been fun,” said Yohe.
She has complemented her therapy with medication to treat her symptoms, including Geodon, escitalopram and melatonin.
Cal U. also has provided support to help Yohe successfully manage her issues while attending classes.
She is granted double the amount of allotted time to complete exams, and she takes tests in a reduced stress area, a room located in the Office of Students with Disabilities.
The university also permits Yohe to keep her pet leopard gecko in her dorm room.
“They've been great,” said Yohe, a criminal justice major who minors in French, art and music. “My gecko helps me to manage my stress, and I don't know what I'd do without her.”
Yohe plans to earn her degree and work as an intake therapist while she pursues a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling, so she can help others who face the challenges she has battled.
She is working to balance college and a job at McDonald's, and on her one day off a week, Yohe plays video games – she's been gaming since she was 3 – and listens to music.
“I listen to music a lot. It's probably the best therapy I have when I'm in a bad mood,” said Yohe, whose taste ranges from death metal and electronic to rock and classical.
Yohe said she decided to share her story to help others understand how it feels to have a mood disorder and to let those battling issues know they are not alone.
She isn't worried about facing backlash from any stigma associated with mental health disorders.
“If people want to make fun of me, I don't care. That's their problem. If you're going to make fun of somebody for something they can't necessarily control, then you're wrong,” said Yohe, who said that good support and her own determination have made her hopeful that she will live a meaningful and happy life. “I've learned that life keeps going. No matter how sad that might sound, if you die, eventually people will forget about you. So why not make a statement instead, and keep on going.”