A suicide survivor shares what he wants other teens to know about mental health

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or worried about a friend or loved one, call the Suicide and Crisis Line on 988 for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nine months ago, near the end of August, Jonah Barrow, a high school senior, tried to take his own life.

Now the 18-year-old from Katy, Texas, is speaking openly about his survival to share a message of hope amid the mental health crisis in the United States, especially among teenagers.

“I hope I can change at least one person’s mind. That’s all I care about,” Barrow told “Good Morning America.” “If I can change one person’s mind or encourage someone to speak up, to relieve their suffering, that’s all I can hope to dream of.”

Barrow said his mental health issues began in middle school as he faced difficulties transitioning to a new school and new friends.

When he entered high school a few years later, Barrow said he began to struggle with his mental health again. An accomplished piano, cello, ukulele and guitar player, he found his niche playing guitar in a rock band.

Yet on that day last August, Barrow said he was struggling to see a future for himself.

“I felt lost, useless,” he said. “After the suicide attempt, it’s kind of shocking to think that before that moment I thought I had no future.”

Courtesy Jonah Barrow

Jonah Barrow, 18, was photographed playing guitar in July 2022.

Barrow said that right now he was also struggling to see the support he had all around him, everyone from his therapist to his friends and family.

“That day, if I had continued to call other people, other family members or other friends, if only one person had answered the phone, I would be in a very different place today,” he said. “It’s so important to keep reaching out and talking about things.”

Barrow’s mother, Lori Barrow, said she remembers also wishing her son had reached out and called even more people who loved him in his hardest time.

“He could have called me, his grandmother, his aunts, his cousins, there’s so many people,” Lori Barrow told “GMA.” “That’s why it’s important to keep reaching out. Reach out to the people you know will be available and keep trying.”

As a teenager who tried to kill himself, Barrow is far from alone, the data show.

Last year, nearly 24 percent of high school girls and nearly 12 percent of college students in the U.S. reported making a suicide plan, according to the latest results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although suicide is the 11th leading cause of death overall in the United States, it is the third leading cause of death among American high school students between the ages of 14 and 18, accounting for one-fifth of all deaths among that age group, according to the report.

MORE: As new data shows children in mental health crisis, parents ask where is the help?

While the past three years of the coronavirus pandemic have put the spotlight on teen mental health issues, especially when it comes to suicide, the issue has been a problem for many years, the data show.

“In the decade before the pandemic, there was a 57 percent increase in the suicide rate among young people,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in an April 30 interview with “GMA.” “And today, nearly half of high school students tell us they feel constantly sad or hopeless.”

A CDC report released last year, just one month after Barrow’s suicide attempt, found an 8 percent increase in the suicide rate among males ages 15 to 24 from 2020 to 2021.

Common risk factors for suicide include a history of depression and other mental illness, bullying, loss of relationships and social isolation, according to the CDC.

Jonah Barrow said that through his own journey, he learned that simply speaking out about his mental health issues helped.

“The moment you start talking about it, it becomes easier,” he said. “I’d say that’s the most important thing.”

Experts also say that one of the most important suicide prevention steps parents can take is to talk to teens about suicide.

“Talk to your kids about suicide because there’s a big misconception that somehow we’re going to get an idea into our kids’ heads and it’s going to make them more likely to do something risky or bad. That’s absolutely incorrect,” Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of the American Psychological Association, told “GMA” earlier this month. “You’re not putting an idea in their head, but what you’re doing is communicating that when they talk to you about it, they’re going to feel safe and they’re going to feel like they can open up to you.”

Laurie Barrow noted that she saw the importance of not only talking to children about mental health and suicide, but also listening to their responses.

“The biggest thing I think parents can do is listen, don’t talk to them, don’t talk about their experiences,” she said. “Because it’s easy for someone to say, ‘I know how you feel. I’ve been there’, but we really haven’t. Their experience is completely different from ours.”

Finding hope in music

In addition to finding healing in talking about his mental health, Jonah Barrow said his passion for music has brought hope back into his life.

After suffering multiple injuries in his suicide attempt, including being temporarily paralyzed, Jonah Barrow has spent much of the past nine months in hospital and undergoing rehabilitation.

While recovering at TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehabilitation center in Houston, he began working with Ty Walcott, a certified music therapist.

“I remember being challenged to try to stay on my feet as long as I could, and I could only stand for about three minutes,” Jonah Barrow said. “But when Ty Walcott came to visit and we started playing songs and listening to music, I managed to last about 15 minutes.”

“It’s like magic,” he said of the effect music has had on his recovery.

Courtesy Jonah Barrow

Jonah Barrow receives music therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas.

Walcott said she used music as a way to help Jonah Barrow regain his mobility and stamina to learn to speak again, in addition to using it as a tool to regulate his emotions.

“Music acts as a vehicle to process these emotions, trauma and grief,” Walcott told “GMA.” “And it helps as a calming agent just because of the way it affects the brain. It affects all parts of the brain in a different way, as opposed to us trying to do it by sheer will.”

MORE: After his brother killed himself, this teacher changed the way he talked to students about mental health

Over the course of several months of therapy with Walcott, Jonah Barrow went from not being able to sit up in bed long enough to play an instrument to performing on stage with Walcott at a local music festival.

Courtesy of Like Minds Communications

Jonah Barrow and Ty Walcott, music therapists at TIRR Memorial Hermann, perform at ReelMusic in February 2023.

“Not being able to hold your instrument is like losing an arm, losing your hands, losing your legs, because it’s a part of you. It’s what makes you you,” Walcott said. “So it was a huge milestone for him to not only be able to play, but to be able to play for other people because that’s what he wants to do.”

Jonah Barrow said he sees reconnecting with music as a turning point in his recovery.

When he arrived at TIRR Memorial Hermann, he said he was still struggling with the “internal conflict” of his feelings over the fact that he survived.

“Because I was still depressed, a part of me was still struggling with, ‘I wish it worked,’ ‘I’m happy it didn’t work out,'” he said, adding, “But when I started working on myself every day , and knowing that if I just keep trying and go at it with a positive mindset and a goal to get better, it’s worked great for me.”

Courtesy Jonah Barrow

Jonah Barrow receives music therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas.

Jonah Barrow will graduate from high school this month and plans to attend college with the goal of pursuing music as a career.

He said he wants people to know that suffering looks different for different people and that there is no shame in talking openly about mental health issues.

“I believe a lot of people are suffering in silence,” he said. “And I can only encourage them to just speak their truth, whatever it is.”

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