I remember the day we found about her death like it was a bad dream. I was scrolling down Twitter when I saw endless tweets from my former peers about how much they will miss her, complete with pictures of her and videos of her singing covers. At first, I wasn’t sure what she did and why everyone was tweeting about it. She was involved around campus; did she win a new award for her accomplishments? Was she going on a trip, so everyone was going to miss her while she was gone?
I could only wish the answers to those questions were anything but what I found out. Finally, I understood: She had committed suicide. Local news blared headlines about her, as our community Facebook page was filled with condolences.
Still, it didn’t feel real. The brightest star I knew was dimmed and it was like I was immersed in some sort of nightmare I couldn’t quite wake myself up from. Here she was, the sweetest, most involved person within my tiny town, and nobody was able to predict she was going through her own personal demons. Even the people who did not know her well spoke about her light, her natural warmth, and the way she made people feel valued and included. Even today, I find myself waiting for the day when she’ll come back and play ukulele and come up with great Instagram captions, but it has yet to happen. It was the great storm that could never be settled.
It hurts to talk about something as personal and emotional as losing someone you love to suicide, but it’s time to begin the conversation about the quality of mental health resources within our public high school systems. When I was a high school student, we had one counselor that dually served as our academic adviser. We only had to visit our counselor when we were either in trouble or when teachers were worried about our mental health. Nothing was more heavily stigmatized in high school than seeing a mental health counselor, as we were taught to strive for perfection while showing no signs of being anything less than fine at every waking hour. What’s more, all the guidance counselors were female, mostly white, straight individuals — which is not wrong by any means, but is certainly not reflective of the intersectional needs that our diverse student body needed.
When I came to college, I was surprised at how counseling sessions were not only available but were encouraged. Several of my peers had weekly counseling sessions as a way to de-stress and find better ways to cope with their different circumstances, something my high school self would have never imagined doing. I cannot help but wonder how many high school students would feel relieved and be on the road to mentally healthier lives if they had an accessible and quality mental health care offered at their campus. In my grief, I cannot help but wonder how many lives would be saved if we had a conversation about mental health that instead of embarrassing the patient, normalized self-love and self-care. If every student was encouraged to get mental health resources with a diverse counseling staff that was trained on the variety of issues students face at home and in school, I cannot help but believe that the statistic that 1 in 12 students has committed suicide would drastically change.
I’m not going to create a false front by any means: My heart is completely and utterly shattered by the loss of my friend. We will never understand the reasons that someone would decide to take their life, nor is anyone to blame for what happened. The past cannot be undone, but it can be redeemed through drawing attention to the stigmas attached to mental health at the public high school level. When students see it as socially safer to remain quiet about their issues rathen than seek help and get counseling, it's an indication that the public high school system has failed in promoting the mental well-being of the student. It’s on us to remember, and it’s on us to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I’m tired of losing my friends to suicide, and I’m tired of the public education system seeing my mental health as a last priority.
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, there are ways to get help. Find resources, tips, and immediate help at Half of Us, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
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