I used to despise nighttime.

It often meant staring at the ceiling all alone in the dark, stuck with nothing but cheesy Netflix movies and a brain that refused to do anything but spew sour, negative thoughts until the sun rose.

If I did manage to fall asleep, depression often didn’t. Those thoughts would burst into my dreams, and I would wake up in a sweaty, panicked despair from twisted, gut-wrenching nightmares.

It wasn’t real.

But the thoughts are.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15- to 29-year-olds worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

As always, but especially with September being National Suicide Prevention Month, it’s important to have tough, real conversations about mental health with those around us.

For people struggling with depression and other mental health issues, COVID-19 has been especially difficult. Seeing those you love is tricky during a pandemic, and loneliness carries an especially hollow feeling when you can’t be within 6 feet of others or see the smiles on the faces around you.

One of my favorite smiles is one I don’t get to see anymore.

Lillia was magnificent.

She was a beautiful, powerful woman with eyes that illuminated and a heart that was filled with nothing but love for others.

She loved animals as if they were humans and was passionate and vocal about issues such as sustainability, mental health, women’s rights and fighting hatred.

As an artist, Lillia was just as powerful. Whether it was a sketch, a painting or a wedding cake, her art always told a story with deep, real meaning. Her art reflected her personality—entirely unique and special.

She texted me at 2 a.m. one morning last August after we hadn’t spoken in a few days.

It was the last text I ever received from her. She died by suicide shortly after, five days before her 20th birthday.

I couldn’t sleep for weeks after her death.

I sat awake for days at a time, wondering what I could have done to save Lillia and how I could have shown her how much she meant to me and countless others.

On the days I find myself struggling, I sit at my desk and look to my left, where a framed picture of Lillia calls home. It reminds me to always be grateful for this life and the people I love.

If you are fighting mental health issues, keep fighting. You are loved, wanted and needed.

The Rock County crisis hotline for those in a mental health emergency is 608-757-5025. The national suicide hotline can be reached at 800-273-8255.

There are people in your life who appreciate you, ranging from the front desk clerk that you greet each day on your way into work to your co-workers, friends and family.

There will be bad days filled with little sleep and no productivity. But there will also be days filled with the warmth of sunshine on your face, hugs from loved ones, and laughs and smiles with your closest friends.

The current state of the world can cause negative thoughts and depression to feel almost overwhelming, but the fight is worth it.

You are worth it.

Benjamin Pierce is The Gazette’s education reporter.