Luke Maxwell’s feelings of depression started moderately enough when he was 12 years old. But by age 16, they had become all-consuming. He endured constant sadness, an inability to sleep, lack of energy, and the loss of his faith in God. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the former altar server from a good Catholic family believed that nobody cared about him and things would never get better.
So on December 3, 2012, Luke took his family’s van and drove it around the neighborhood. When he saw an oncoming SUV, the teen, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, accelerated to 60 mph and drove head-on into the vehicle, welcoming the death that would free him from his pain.
The fact that Luke is still alive today is just one of the miraculous parts of his story. And he is not taking his second chance at life for granted.
During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Luke revealed that after his suicide attempt, he was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder caused by an inherited genetic trait. That’s why the young man who used to say the rosary with his family every night came to believe, “God doesn’t love me. If there was a God, he wouldn’t let this happen to me. I’m alone.”
In retrospect, he said, “My worldview was twisted into a reality that wasn’t actually real.”
Embarrassed by what he was feeling, Luke kept his thoughts to himself and spent a lot of time alone in his room. Knowing what he knows now, that isolation, coupled with sleep problems, were the two biggest symptoms of his depression.
The problem was that neither Luke nor any of his family members knew anything about clinical depression or its symptoms. That’s why his suicidal tendencies eventually progressed to the point of the car crash.
When Luke realized he had survived the collision, his first thought was, “My worst nightmare had come true because now, everyone will know. I can’t keep my secret anymore.”
Luke told responding police officers that he had crashed on purpose, so he was arrested, but also taken to the hospital for a brain scan, which revealed no actual damage. Despite a 60 mph crash without a seatbelt, “I had survived completely unharmed.”
In addition, the revelation of Luke’s secret led to the opposite of what he originally expected. His parents told him they loved him and that he could talk to them about anything. They were fully committed to his healing.
In addition, he was transferred to a mental health facility where he was diagnosed and put on medication. Once he was released from there, he started seeing a therapist several times a week and taking other steps toward healing and rekindling his spiritual life. He now spends more time in prayer and taking part in the sacraments. “It was a snowball [effect], because you heal one factor, you get a little bit better, and then it’s easier to heal the other symptoms that are going on.”
Luke, of course, wasn’t the only one involved in his suicide attempt. There was also the other driver, Lenny Ross, who was simply a victim of bad timing.
Luke was slated to be prosecuted for attempted murder, and the DA was pushing for the maximum penalty. Then, she met with Luke and heard his genuine commitment to educating teens and their parents on the symptoms of depression. He believed that his story could prompt young people to open up about their feelings so they wouldn’t have to walk down the same road that he did.
The DA chose to fight for Luke’s freedom. And when Luke asked her to arrange a meeting with Lenny so he could apologize, she played go-between to bring the two together.
Eight months after the crash, Luke and Lenny met at a coffee shop. “When he came,” said Luke, “I gave him a big hug and all I could say was, ‘I’m so sorry.’ He stepped back, looked at me, and said, ‘That’s all I wanted to hear.’ That moment I realized, ‘Wait. He just forgave me.’ We sat and talked for a few hours after that, about him and his life. Now he’s fighting for me. That’s why I’m such a strong advocate for forgiveness, for real true forgiveness. Because if he hadn’t forgiven me, who knows where I would be right now?”
With an ability to focus on the future, Luke created the ministry UCantBeErased.com, through which he sets up speaking engagements and updates the social media component of his youth outreach. And the young man who used to hide the truth about his feelings has now developed a policy of complete honesty. “I’m not going to sugarcoat anything for you. I’m not going to give you a fancy world where you read a motivational quote on Facebook and all your problems go away. I’m going to give you real life.”
Following Luke’s talks, teens don’t always reach out to him in person in a public forum, but they do often private message him through Facebook or Instagram where he offers them some guidance. And 60 percent of the kids who contact him are 12 and 13 years old.
The first thing he always recommends is talking to their parents about their feelings of depression, even though it’s not easy. If they say they can’t do it, he sends them to a letter on his website that they can use as a “rough template” to give their parents and start a conversation.
He also encourages parents to take the step of talking to their kids about depression: “Just as you give your kids ‘the talk,’ there is another talk to give to help them be healthy and happy human beings. Because my parents tell all of us now: if you’re ever feeling depressed – and they list the symptoms – talk to us. We’re not going to punish you. We’re not going to yell at you. We’re going to maybe take you to a doctor or a therapist. Maybe you’ll have to take medication, but we’re going to help you overcome this so you can be happy again.”
(To listen to my full interview with Luke Maxwell, click on the podcast link below):