Students begin efforts to snap troubling trend
To Carmen Navarro there’s no question about it. Teen suicide is a problem in the Quincy Valley.
“Our counselors are working hard on it,” said Navarro, a teacher at Quincy High School. “But we need more support.”
Julie Hoersch, a 1988 Quincy grad sitting a few feet away from her at Jaycee Stadium last weekend, agreed with Navarro.
“It’s really huge here,” she said. “There’s a high school suicide every two years or so.”
Last year, a teenager chose to end his life at Monument Hill. His death – and that of others–sparked Acevedo, Hoersch and others to show up last Saturday and see if they can make a difference and snap the troubling trend.
Teenagers, children and adults met at the stadium for the Walk to Save Lives, a senior class project by students Gavin Deich and Luis Cholula and mentored by U.S. Marine veteran Toby Flaget.
Flaget has spent much time raising awareness of veteran suicide. He walked across the nation last year as part of his cause.
“I lost seven buddies to suicide in a two-month period,” he said, wearing a red baseball cap with “Semper Fi” embroidered on the side and a shirt reading “22 is 22 too many.”
Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day in the United States, he said. To put it into perspective, Flaget cited the Super Bowl, which pits two squads of 11 men on each side. Each day, the equivalent of the starters for both Super Bowl teams commit suicide.
During his cross-country walk, he had the help of a man in a car following him along. The man was Deich’s cousin, and that’s how Deich got the idea for his senior project.
Walk to Save Lives seeks to bring to the forefront the issues of teen suicide and veteran suicide, Deich said, adding that three more classmates have helped organize the event. All five knew of the boy who died at Monument Hill.
Katie, Julie’s daughter, also showed up to walk, not in memory of a lost friend, but in tribute to a friend fighting a hard battle.
“He cuts his wrists,” she said. “We tried to get him to come but he didn’t want to.”
Julie said she has been raising awareness of suicide since her high school days as a Natural Helper. Flaget is a former schoolmate of hers, she said.
Asked why Quincy had a teen suicide problem, Julie said it was part of what she called “small-town stigma.”
“It’s just depressing, and kids don’t know what to do; there’s nothing for them to do,” she said. “There’s no outs and there’s a lot of bullying, so they just give up.”
Navarro said that many families have two working parents, sometimes into the late hours of the evening.
“That leaves many children by themselves,” she said. “No support.”
Deich said he hoped someone grabs the torch and keeps the walk going long after he and Cholula graduate, and the numbers of veteran and teen suicide begin to drop. Navarro said she wants to keep it going.
“The community can help by showing up,” Navarro said in Spanish. “We need to see and read that it’s a problem and that we need to do something.”
To Flaget, the hope is that these walks have the same effect that Earvin “Magic” Johnson had on AIDS.
“Back in the 1980s, AIDS was like, ‘shhh,’ you couldn’t talk about it,” he said. “Once it came up that (Magic) was HIV-positive, it took the stigma off it. Suicide, the 22 veterans a day, that’s here, but if you go worldwide, and don’t put race, class or anything, someone is committing suicide due to mental illness every minute and a half.”
Flaget said that taking the stigma out of suicide will allow for a more open conversation about it and what’s sparking suicidal thoughts. It could be head trauma, like what happened to professional football stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. For Flaget, it was his epilepsy medication.
“They put me on Dilantin,” he recalled. “I had never been depressed or suicidal and I had my pistol in my mouth.”
On her first year as teacher in Quincy, Navarro said, curbing teen suicide may become her life’s work.
“I like helping the children, talk to them and get them to change their lives,” she said. “To me that’s a worthy goal.”
— By Sebastian Moraga, firstname.lastname@example.org