For anyone who has experienced depression, 20-year-old college student Jordan Burnham knows how you feel. In fact, his own depression got so bad it resulted in his September 28, 2007 suicide attempt.
Now, three years later, survivor and mental health advocate Burnham is being honored in People Magazine’s “Heroes Among Us” section, which hit newsstands last Friday.
While a senior at Upper Merion High School, an overwhelmingly depressed Burnham fell 90-feet after throwing himself off the ninth floor of his family’s King of Prussia apartment building.
Despite loving friends and family, Burnham, a popular varsity athlete, had been experiencing severe depression. He says a family decision to move from Penn Hills, outside Pittsburgh, to King of Prussia was a major trigger.
"I think I knew that I had depressed feelings when I first moved to King of Prussia," Burnham said. "I felt very alone-- certain things felt numb to me. It was difficult to do certain tasks."
Burnham continued, “I felt like I had these weights that were on my shoulder that made it ten times harder for me than for anyone else.”
Miraculously he survived the fall and recovered, walking now with just the help of a cane.
His family was there for Burnham every step of the way. "It made us definitely a lot closer and a lot stronger," Burnham recalled.
Regarding discussions about suicide with his parents, Burnham said, “It opened a lot of dialogue that we had never had before.”
With his friends, Burnham noted, “It really separated who some of my true friends really are. It gave us the opportunity to have a lot deeper conversations.”
Through his recovery, Burnham wanted “to prove to other people that you can have a mental health disorder…and have a ‘normal life’ as some people would call it, and a life that makes you happy.”
This desire to help people led to Burnham’s involvement with Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group that visits colleges, and occasionally high schools and middle schools.
Burnham travels monthly around the country with Active Minds to recount his experiences with depression.
“The one thing that I encourage young adults to know is that having a mental health issue is a process and something that isn’t easy," Burnham said. "It’s just like if you broke a leg…it takes time to recover…so that you can hopefully get better and that it will heal."
Burnham criticizes the social stigma surrounding the seeking of treatments for mental illnesses.
"You’re looked at as weak for taking ‘happy pills’ or going to see a therapist," he said.
On depression-triggering life changes, Burnham said, “Everyone has to deal with them, but a lot of the time people just don’t know how”.
But, says, Burnham, “How you deal with it and cope with it-- that’s the important part.”
A natural at public speaking, Burnham is studying broadcast journalism at Montgomery County Community College to perhaps become a sportscaster. He's also working on a book about his experiences.
"As of right now the book. I would hope to graduate college within the next two or three years…I would love to make public speaking even more of a full-time job," he said.
For now though, Burnham plans to continue opening the forum for a desperately needed dialogue about mental health.