Dying for Help: A stark look at teen mental health, Part III

Dying for Help: A stark look at teen mental health, Part III
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- For several months, Eyewitness News has been documenting the struggles of teenagers battling something that many people are afraid to talk about, yet it affects families in devastating ways: mental illness.

The intent of this five-part special series is to break the stigma associated with mental illness and to give a voice to those "dying for help."

More than half of all teens with a mental disorder drop out of high school. That's the highest dropout rate of any disability group.

"It's hard. It really is. It's a difficult thing to have," said 16-year-old Marley Ramirez, who is a senior at Centennial High School. She also suffers from a serious mental illness that nearly took her life.

"There's some dark secrets. They would never understood like what I've gone through," Marley said while sitting on a couch in her northwest Bakersfield home.


 Marley Ramirez is seen as a child in this undated photo.

How was Marley as a young child?

"Very outgoing, social, really, really social, a fast learner, active," said mother Jennifer Ramirez.

"At her first birthday, she was making sentences. Amazing," added father Robin Ramirez.

From a young age, she was smart, creative and a straight-A student. But, despite it all, by age 9 something else emerged on a trip to the doctor for a staph infection.

"And while we were sitting in the waiting room, I looked at her while we were talking and looked again and realized all of her eyelashes were gone. She never did it gain, but it just alerted me, a little light went off that there's some anxiety," said Jennifer Ramirez.

A few years passed with no obvious signs anything was wrong, until reaching junior high.

"We realized she was suffering from depression. We weren't aware at the time that was a mental illness or that was a clinical diagnosis," Jennifer Ramirez said.

Marley got counseling, with not much luck. She became manic -- the "life of the party" one week, sad and withdrawn the next.

She went through a period of dressing in all black and felt tormented by fellow students.

"Actually, I was spit on at one point, literally, pushed into a wall by some jerk guy," Marley recalled.

She even began the self mutilation ritual of cutting.

"All I remember is I'm a cutter," she said. "I was a cutter, and that's just what I do or did."

"There has to be something really serious happening for someone wanting to cut their body," added the girl's mother.

Even so, Marley appeared to bounce back, telling her parents only the positive things she thought they wanted to hear. For three years, she got good grades and played soccer.

But in reality, Marley's life from within quickly spiraled into a deeper depression. Then one night, more than a year ago, this once bright and promising young girl attempted suicide by cutting her arms and wrists and overdosing on Xanax.

What was Marley thinking as the suicide attempt occurred?

"I hope this works," she recalled thinking. "I hope this works."

Marley had the courage to tell her mom the next day.

"I was so proud of her, because she was so, so brave and came to me and shared exactly what she was feeling, exactly what she had done. And that she was afraid. And I hugged her and kissed her and loved her and supported her and said we're going to help you," Jennifer Ramirez said.

Marley was hospitalized and saw a psychiatrist and finally got a real diagnosis: She was bipolar and had major depression.

"It's quick to onset, but its repair is not a 20-minute thing. It's not pop a pain, medical pill. It's not like that. It takes time," said Robin Ramirez.

She nearly attempted a second suicide attempt just months ago.

"I was almost to the point where I had the razor blade in the arm, but I was able to find the strength to put it down," said Marley.

The right balance of therapy, support, prayer and medication has Marley finally returning to the Marley of old.

"Yeah, it's my cocktail, you know. You have to find the right one, and I think I found it," Marley said in describing her medication.

"My advice would be, don't be naive about it, don't deny it, educate yourself, so that you can educate your child," said Jennifer Ramirez.

"I've lived through it. I know people who have lived through it. I am a survivor," said Marley.