Mallory Gothelf was 18, just emerging herself from the depths of severe depression, when she saw a girl crying in her high school’s restroom. She saw herself in many ways. How many times had she stood there in anguish?
“I just couldn’t stand the fact that she was standing there alone,” Gothelf said. As others pretended not to see her, Gothelf let her know she was seen—and cared about.
When Gothelf asked the girl if she was OK, knowing she wasn’t, the girl shook her head, “no.” It was the end of the school day, and Gothelf had to leave to catch her ride but gave the girl her phone number and urged her to get in touch that evening.
She did. And it saved her life.
The girl had been planning to commit suicide, but talking to Gothelf eased her pain enough to save her. Gothelf’s life was touched too.
It reaffirmed Gothelf’s resolve to help people struggling with mental illness. She is now a psychology student at Northeastern University in Boston, and founder of the budding organization Fight for Your Infinity, which reaches out to troubled youth.
“She’s irreplaceable,” Gothelf said of the girl in the washroom. “She’s an individual who is unique and nobody would have replaced her.”
When Gothelf sank into depression at the age of 15, a girl at her school had similarly seen herself in Gothelf and extended a caring hand. The girl who helped Gothelf had recovered from an eating disorder the previous year.
“I guess she saw something in me,” Gothelf said. On Christmas day, she came to Gothelf’s house to give her an ultimatum: “Either tell your parents you have a problem and need help, or I’ll tell them for you.”
Gothelf went to an in-patient clinic after this intervention. “I started to realize that, A. I wasn’t alone, and B. that there’s a lot of beauty in this world.”
She gave a talk at this clinic after her recovery. “I returned … to show them that there was another side, that they could make it to that other side. This wasn’t going to be the rest of their lives.”
Through public speaking and gathering and sharing similar experiences, Gothelf saw she could help many others. She launched her Fight for Your Infinity website this month.
It combines several platforms. Gothelf explained: “Fight For Your Infinity will provide conventional in-person motivational speaking and anonymous, … interactive social forums online. Using both formats, we believe we can reach individuals who are suffering to encourage and empower them to become infinite with us.”
A famous suicide case always stood out to Gothelf as exemplary of how the small kindnesses can make a big difference: Dr. Jerome Motto, a psychiatrist and suicide expert in San Francisco, had a patient who committed suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge in 1963. “I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner,” he told Tad Friend of The New Yorker magazine.
“The guy was in his 30s, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.'”
Gothelf said, though it may be difficult to know what to say when someone is depressed, just “always put the offer out [to talk] and let people know that you care.”