Luke Maxwell grew up a happy, normal kid in a very big and loving family. And then things changed. At 12, he started to feel different and lonely. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong and kept it a secret. During the next four years, the bad feelings grew stronger.
At 16 years old, he woke up one morning and decided he was going to end his life. He took the family van out, and at 60 mph collided with another vehicle.
It took this tragedy for Luke and his parents to realize that he had a disease called depression.
A few months after that fateful day, at the urging of the district attorney, he wrote an apology letter asking for forgiveness to the person he hit and asked to meet him in person. The victim agreed to meet with Luke at a coffee shop. When they met, they hugged each other. Luke said he was sorry. The victim replied, “That’s all I wanted to hear.” Later, the victim advocated for Luke and asked the judge for leniency. He stated in court, “if they locked Luke up, the world would be losing him.”
Not only did the district attorney fight for him instead of against him, but the victim forgave him and worked to keep him out of prison. “I can’t believe my own story sometimes,” said Luke, now 22.
During his recovery, he learned that 1 in 4 teens go through depression, and he started to see the signs with his friends. Not taking anything for granted and wanting to turn tragedy into hope for others, Luke embarked on helping teens become aware of depression and seek treatment before they hurt themselves, the people they love or innocent strangers.
Ucantbeerased.com is his personal mental health initiative and project that initially started as a blog and has now transformed into a crusade of speaking engagements at schools, colleges, conferences, etc. At the heart of it is his goal for teens to hear his struggle, but also the good that comes from it and to use his lessons to overcome his depression to better their lives. He wants to be a catalyst for action.
He is determined to help others suffering from depression to, “recognize their problem, work to overcome it and most importantly, to be unashamed by it.” He wants kids to ask for help, especially from people that can make appointments for them — meaning adults. He wants teens to be active in their recovery and stop doing those things that make them feel worse, like isolation. Instead, do those things that help you feel better, like connecting and talking with others.
He has seen so many good things happen from sharing his story. One time he was able to speak at a high school where the parents and teachers had to convince the administrators to let him speak. Much stigma still remains around mental health.
He was told that after he spoke, a senior confided in the school’s counselor that she was actively planning to take her life before graduation. Then she heard Luke speak and instead asked the counselor to help her get treatment for her depression.
This is something he has heard before.
He still receives notes from students he spoke to years ago relaying how his experience continues to provide them hope while they are going through very bad times. He thinks his message of hope resonates because he empowers teens to choose life over death and explains that by being alive, you can impact so many more people.
While Luke is very clear that his journey is not one he would wish on anyone, he is gratified that something good can come out of tragedy.
About this feature
Melgoza is a member of the U-T Community Advisory Board. People San Diego Should Know is a weekly column about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials. If you know of someone you believe San Diego should know, please send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org