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Students start school conversations about suicide

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A group of students at St. Ignatius High School have organized to start conversations about mental health and suicide in their school.

Their organizing was a reaction to the many completed and attempted suicides that have happened in the county over the past year. Students have had enough direct and indirect experience with the issue to know there is a problem. 

Addison Arlint, a sophomore, said the students felt they could start solving the problem within their own peer group. “We know what helps us,” she said.

The group began talking about the issue last year. Those talks recently culminated in an anonymous question and answer project designed to broach the difficult subject.

The students decided to challenge the lack of dialogue about suicide by starting a conversation within each grade level in different classrooms and spaces at the school. They figured if society made it uncomfortable to talk about these issues, then society could also make it comfortable to talk about.

Shannon Redmond, the school’s counselor, helped the group develop questions about suicide that students could respond to without putting their name on.

About 130 high schoolers participated.

Students were asked how suicide and mental health issues impacted their lives, and if they thought about suicide, how did they get through it? The answers were displayed on a bulletin board in the high school without names.

“We needed to keep talking about this,” said senior Leila Marsh, one of the project organizers. She said she wanted people to talk about suicide prevention and mental health issues until they were so tired of it that the subject becomes a common part of people’s conversations, instead of something people are afraid to discuss. She believes talking about the issue with compassion can help make it easier for people to ask for help.

“It only took one person to start talking and everyone started opening up,” said senior Sophia Tolbert, about one of the discussions. “We cried when people talked about actual suicide attempts, and we realized that one problem doesn’t one-up another. Everyone’s struggle is important.”

“It’s amazing we spend five days a week together for years and we don’t really know what people are going through,” said senior Brooklinn Hunt. “They can be the funniest, kindest people and seem so happy, but you don’t really know. You don’t know the crap people go through.”

Sophia said one of the answers to how someone got past suicidal thoughts highlighted another issue. “It says: ‘I haven’t gotten through it.’ I wish I knew who that person was so we could help them and tell them someone cares, but this shows that you don’t just get over mental health issues.” 

Brooklinn read another message from the board: “I think what this world needs is more love than anything else.”

Making it easier to talk about suicide and mental health issues was the goal for the group, but they also discussed what to do next when the conversation begins. 

“You have to straight up ask: ‘Are you contemplating killing yourself?’ Let them open up, and then, help them find help if they need it, and give them the suicide text line.” 

The group said being a teenager isn’t easy with the pressure not to fail, to find the right career before they even really know themselves, and although social media has it’s benefits, it’s also full of images telling them they need to be a certain way to be good enough.

“We have our entire financial future to decide right now,” Brooklinn said. “And if you have this idea of what you want and it doesn’t work out, you don’t get into college or whatever, then what do you do? It can be devastating.”

“College is so expensive,” Sophia added. “We have to pick what we want to do, and if you pick the wrong thing, you waste all that money, and that anxiety is just from worrying about college.” 

The group seemed to take a collective breath before agreeing they wanted to keep working on the issue of awareness to let other teenagers know that people care and they aren’t alone.

“We may not know you, but we care about you,” Leila said. 

She said teenagers across the reservation are doing projects to help each other deal with some heavy issues, and she wants the work to continue. She mentioned the videos the Arlee Warrior basketball team created in an effort to bring awareness to the battle against suicide. 

“It was cool that they used their platform for a good cause,” she said. “If I was wearing a hat right now, I would tip it and say ‘thank you’ for doing that. It’s really important that we get this message out. I think students have decided that to make change, we need to be the change.” 

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