At 17, Siskiyou County resident Rebecca Tuttle has reached out to hundreds of people across the nation, and globally, with words of encouragement and support through her Facebook group, Stay Strong♥ .

Dissatisfied with other Facebook groups, she started Stay Strong♥ more than nine months ago. Only 16 then, she said she thought it would just be her and a couple of friends. Never did she think she’d be saving lives.

She said her group provides a safe, caring place for members who may have suicidal thoughts or just need someone to talk to.

“We all care about each other,” said Tuttle who struggles with her own issues.

Tuttle recently had a special visit from Jack Dixon, a group member and friend who’s life she touched.

Dixon, who lives in Arkansas, said he joined Stay Strong♥ shortly after Tuttle started it. Soon after joining, he attempted to end his life.

Through Tuttle’s efforts to contact 9-1-1, and his family, she was able to quickly get help to him.

She said if someone posts thoughts of suicide, she takes it seriously and immediately acts. Using Facebook, Tuttle searches for their family members and alerts them to check on the person.

She said there have been other members she has been able to help and saving their lives.

For Tuttle, it seemed that other Facebook groups didn’t take it seriously if someone posted that they wanted to end their life.

“I just want people to know they’re never alone,” she said. “Every life is so important, and I believe everyone’s here for a reason.”

Dr. Robert Hughes, Psy.D., the Executive Director of the youth and family services organization Remi Vista, said in a phone interview that one of the protectors against suicide is to create a place of belonging and friendship, a place where people can communicate about how they feel.

When he heard about Tuttle’s Facebook group during the interview Dr. Hughes said, “She’s doing a wonderful thing. She’s enhancing the protective factors.”

Tuttle said Jack Dixon has helped her as well. “We’ve got each other’s backs,” she said, explaining that she also reached the same point Dixon did. She said she got help and began medication and therapy.

Tuttle speaks with compassion and understanding beyond her years about challenges many teens face today.

She is candid about struggling with depression. She said she learned her brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine.

Dr. Hughes explained that dopamine is a pleasure transmitter. Loss of pleasure is one of the risk factors. Teens like to enjoy life, movies, games with friends, etc., and when they lose that pleasure, that’s not good. He explained that an imbalance of serotonin (a neurotransmitter believed to act as mood stabilizer) is usually a contributor to depression.

Tuttle said she personally understands the harm bullying can cause.

“My dad passed away when I was five and people actually made fun of me because of it,” she said.

She said she was bullied in sixth grade and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result.

Home schooled for the rest of sixth grade, she returned to traditional school in seventh grade after moving to Arizona. There, she said she was physically beaten during school by another student and school administration did not support her.

Along with verbal and physical bullying, Tuttle said she has experienced cyber bullying. “People have told me to kill myself on Facebook,” she said. The bully is “hiding behind a screen. They don’t know how the other person is reacting.”

She thinks it doesn’t seem real to the bully, but says the person on the receiving end “just keeps reading it over and over.”

“I think bullying is a big part of teen depression,” she said.

Dr. Hughes said adolescents (between the ages of 12-18) begin looking at peers for value and acceptance and not to their parents anymore. That awareness of beginning to imagine what others think about you is an eye-opener. “When we’re bullied, that’s like waking up to a nightmare,” he said.

Tuttle also blames the media for showing images of perfect-looking girls and guys that make teens think they need to look or feel a certain way. “A lot of teens think they are not good enough.”

Dr. Hughes agrees and said the “media does have a very powerful effect on the development and the views of ourself. Girls are objectified so much in the media.”

“Many teens aren’t able to tell their parents,” said Tuttle. “If they are struggling with depression, I really recommend they talk to their doctor.”

Dr. Hughes said we need each other. We need someone to say lets talk about it. It’s hard for some people to let their loved ones feel that pain. For family and friends of those struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, he recommends finding someone who can talk to your loved one.

Tuttle said Stay Strong♥ adds about 10 new people a day and has more than 700 members. Most are from the US, but she has several from India.

“What a great thing!” Hughes said. “Social media is powerful and can be used for good or for evil. This is a good use for social media.”

He said Tuttle is making a group for friendship, connection, and belonging. “She’s doing a great thing. She’s being outward focused. It’s wonderful for her and she’s helping others.”

Dixon earned his GED through home schooling after leaving the traditional classroom because of the bullying.

He said he’s never been more than two states out of Arkansas and traveled to Siskiyou County to meet Tuttle and take a vacation.

Tuttle said after graduation she plans to attend Corban University for their veterinary program. Dixon said he is also interested in becoming a vet and may pursue it in the future.

Dr. Hughes gives a list of warning signs of suicide and adds that it’s never too early to call for help. He said we get in trouble when our pain exceeds our ability to cope with the pain.

Some warning signs are: Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves. Looking for a way to kill themselves. Talking about feeling helpless or no reason to live. Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain. Talking about being a burden to others. Increasing use of alcohol or drugs. Acting anxious or agitated, behaving reckless, or uncomfortable in their own skin. Sleeping too little or too much (wanting to sleep, but can’t or just can’t get out of bed). Withdrawing or feeling isolated. Common for boys is showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

Hughes said girls tend to internalize pain and boys tend to externalize pain.

If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis you can call the Siskiyou County crisis 24/7 hotline at 1-800-842-8979 or the national hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).