Suicide is a difficult topic to understand and discuss, but a handful of Marshall High School students are trying to make a positive difference by organizing a Marshall area Out of the Darkness Campus Walk - scheduled for May 6 - to help raise awareness, educate and banish the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death - a person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the U.S. - yet suicide prevention research funding lags way behind in comparison to other leading causes. In the past decade, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has grown from a grassroots network of researchers and volunteers into a national movement - AFSP is now the nation's leader in the fight against suicide - with chapters in all 50 states.
"We're the leadership team of the (Born to be Alive) Yellow Ribbon," MHS sophomore KC Boerboom said. "At the beginning of the year, we made goals of what we wanted to do throughout the year. We said we wanted to make posters, do a video for Ramp Up and then we wanted to put on an Out of the Darkness Walk. I think we've all been impacted by it." Sophomores Makenzie Enderson and Lily Her and juniors Sydney Meister and Daisy Najera are also part of the suicide prevention student group along with Boerboom. Advisers Julie Weiss, Deb Herrmann and Marilyn Bolin help facilitate the effort. "It's pretty much the kids' decision what they want to do, and we just try to facilitate and support," said Herrmann, the head school nurse at MHS.
"Obviously, I see a big need for mental health (support) here. I see a lot of kids coming in with needs, so it's great when students are willing to help educate people. I think kids take it from kids better." Enderson said that the girls had been working on the posters before Christmas. Her said that they were now in the process of writing scripts for the video. "We're doing 'Do's and Don'ts,'" Her said. Weiss, who serves as academic support at MHS, said they are modeling the right thing to say. "There are messages, like if they see or hear a friend, they're kind of showing the right thing versus the wrong thing," Weiss said.
Enderson said the language people use is also important when it comes to suicide prevention. "We're trying to stress that you don't say, 'committed suicide,'" she said. "You say 'death by suicide.' And you don't promise you're not going to tell. I've learned a lot more about what to say and what not to say." Herrmann said that oftentimes, suicide is not a conscious choice. "The depression may have taken over their thoughts," Herrmann said. "So it's really important when a peer recognizes and knows to take them to a trusted adult. So a lot of it is for education or to reduce the stigma of depression and mental illness - to get the word out." Weiss said she was impressed with the effort the leadership team has put forth.
"We talked to them and they said they were going to be there - just in case anyone needs help or just support around the community," she said. While some communities have held community walks in the fall - Currie has held two Out of the Darkness Community Walks - this is the first spring event to be held in the area. The spring attendees will join roughly 25,000 others who are taking part in campus walks across the country this spring. "We will be doing some extra things that morning, too," Herrmann said. "We'll have pins and things they can buy. There will be a variety of beads - like if you've lost a spouse to suicide, it's red beads. If it's a military person, it's silver beads. If you struggle with depression yourself, it's green beads. Again, it's just trying to get the word out about how many of us are affected by depression and mental illness."
The leadership team was quick to praise the many sponsors and organizations - people from Western Mental Health, Southern Prairie, Avera, Community Care, the Marshall YMCA and others - for helping to support the event. Along with the posters and video, the leadership team is sharing lifelines on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook. "We have an Instagram page - outofthedarknesswalkmarshallmn - and you're linked to it," Boerboom said. "You can right to the site and register a team."
The students are also sharing the txt4life suicide prevention resource for anyone in Minnesota - text LIFE to 61222 - in addition to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) and the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).