TW: This article discusses mental illness, self-harm, and assault.
I helped a teenager who had run away from home.
It sounds as crazy as it is. It’s not something I ever expected to do as an adult, but it is absolutely something I would do again. So I wanted to share the story in case anyone ever finds themselves in a similar situation, not knowing how to help.
One mildly quiet night at work, I was attending to other customers at the customer service center. I am a supervisor at a popular retailer for background, and I have a very good habit of picking up on other conversations to predict future incidents (if they do occur.)
A young teenager came up to the cashier next to me, looking scared and covered in what looked like scratches, blood, and dirt. She mumbled to the cashier that she had ran away from home and needed help. In that instant, I stopped the other supervisor I was talking to and changed the conversation to the teen. I had the teen repeat what she had said to the other supervisor, and in a louder voice, she said, “I ran away from home, and I need help.”
Immediately both of us jumped into action, moving her into a secure location and contacting 9-1-1. We started with the basics — name, age, gender (specifically, her pronouns), and most importantly, what happened. For privacy reasons, I will not be releasing this information aside from the fact that she identified as a female, and you could see the fear in her eyes.
She told us that she got into a fight with her mother that morning. The young teen had broken some Christmas ornaments in the yard and was stomping on them. The teen eventually picked up a piece of the ornament and began hurting herself with the broken glass.
Her mother stopped her, but the teen threw something at her mother, injuring her in the process. Her mom sent the teen to her room, but instead, the teen left home, running away. She eventually hitchhiked into town, being dropped off at the store. She walked around for several hours before reality came crashing down on her. Realizing what she had done, she came into the store hoping for safety. While she didn’t want to go home, she knew she had done wrong and needed help.
Quickly, we knew she needed more help than any police officer could offer. She needed mental help as well. The scratches and blood were from her self-harming. From what we picked up, she was a depressed teen. She sought unconventional treatment previously, but it was very apparent it wasn’t working. All of her self-harm marks were fresh, which qualifies her for a 72-hour psychiatric hold.
We were all hoping that we could say something that would make her change her mind about everything. We hoped that something would change for this teenager, so we offered her any support she could want or need. We offered her clean clothes, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear that would listen. The most helpful thing I could advise her was to draw on herself instead of self-harming. I hoped it was something she would listen to, but I know when you are in a mental crisis mode, you may not have truly heard.
A few weeks later, she came back to visit us.
Since that night, she’s been constantly on my mind. When she visited, she asked to see everyone that helped her that night so she could give them a hug. The cuts were healing, and you could tell there were some major improvements overall. The doctors were able to adjust her medication and make sure that they were working.
She started therapy. She was focused on becoming a better version of herself. And most importantly, she heard the advice she was given — from everyone, but especially the advice about drawing instead of harming. She had drawings all over her arm and up to her shoulder, and I honestly can say I have never been so proud. The improvements she made in just a few weeks give me so much hope for her future, and I know if she keeps going, she will be just fine.