|SPEAK helps youth get through dark times|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
|Tuesday, 12 March 2013 09:26|
ShareIt’s not easy being a teen. Pressure can come from so many different sources, whether it’s family, school, peers or an employer. Insecurities and self-doubt reign, as it’s all about wanting to fit in and be accepted.
Important decisions and choices are made that can have a long-lasting impact, positive or negative, making the stakes high and the tension almost unbearable.
All teens struggle with a myriad of problems, but some have a particularly difficult time during this period in life. They may become depressed and even go as far as to entertain suicidal thoughts.
Helping youth get through their dark times is crucial. Unfortunately, sometimes cries for help go unnoticed because others aren’t aware of the signs indicating something is terribly wrong.
And then the unthinkable happens. Students at Woodinville High, motivated by a desire to prevent such tragedies from happening among their peers, recently formed a new club.
SPEAK – Suicide Prevention Awareness Kinship –focuses on learning about the signs and symptoms of depression and teaching students how they can recognize these symptoms in others.
The aim is to provide a resource of information for teens on how to get qualified professional help for themselves or for an at-risk peer. Those who are struggling will have a safe environment where they will feel welcome and accepted, as well as receive needed support from other students.
The club is the brainchild of Elizabeth Pitts and Nate Billett.
Pitts, a junior, is all too familiar with depression.
“I struggled with depression and anxiety for several years,” she says. “I hit rock bottom and thought that I didn’t need to live anymore. I was saved, though, by a former Woodinville High student after attempting suicide. When I woke up, I was angry. My thoughts were all negative and all I could think of was, ‘How did that not work? What do I have to do now?’ But, in the next few weeks, through my best friends, I realized that being saved was the best thing that ever happened to me.
“I had been so caught up in my head and ready to leave everything behind, but looking back, I just see myself when I was sad and lost, then remind myself that I am incredibly lucky to be alive.”
SPEAK took months of planning and the process involved meetings with WHS administrators, faculty, school counselors, representatives from the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) and several parents of Northshore School District students.
Pitts notes that YSPP was very instrumental in helping establish parameters.
“Karyn from YSPP helped us understand where our boundaries need to be when helping kids learn about suicide, depression, self-harm, etc. Karyn has been amazing while working with us. We plan on having YSPP representatives come in and train a small group of students, including myself and faculty members, to be able to educate and work with students safely.”
Yvonne McCord, a WHS English teacher, is the faculty advisor for SPEAK. McCord will be present at the club’s meetings to take notes, provide guidance and assist the club’s leaders.
She says, “I will take the same training core members of SPEAK will go through so that we will be unified in our effort to educate and offer support to students and parents with concerns. We will act as a collective voice of intelligence with purpose; we will also offer solutions to those in need.”
She explains that the core SPEAK team will have the opportunity to talk to all WHS health classes to help make their peers aware of their existence and to let them know they welcome those in need and those who understand the importance of helping at-risk individuals.
“Students acting as ambassadors have a powerful voice among peers,” says McCord. “Students talking to students who are empathetic, and in some cases have experienced similar struggles, will be able to better support those in need and inspire hope.”
McCord views SPEAK as perhaps one of the most important opportunities she has had to help students “on their journey in life.”
She feels honored to be included in such a worthwhile endeavor, though initially she wondered why the students invited her to participate. Pitts clarified the reasons, explaining that the decision was based on McCord’s sensitivity and caring attitude toward those students impacted by the loss of their peer last fall.
“She was one of the first teachers I turned to after the tragedy,” comments Pitts. “Since then, she has been truly amazing and understanding throughout this entire process.”
McCord expresses hope that SPEAK can provide a safety net to students in need. She adds, “One of the most powerful things Elizabeth pointed out that I really heard was how painful it is to lose the life of a beloved friend, student and child. We are a community and we all suffer from the loss of life as a community. If SPEAK can save a life as a team, then this is certainly the most important job in my teaching career.”
The club will meet every first and third Tuesday of the month. According to Pitts, each session will consist of an informational talk, along with an activity, followed by small group time to help facilitate connections and make students feel comfortable with one another.
Outside speakers are a definite possibility, especially representatives from YSPP. As to the possible turnout, Pitts explains that she created a Facebook group which currently has 65 members made up of students, parents and WHS alumni who requested to be a part of SPEAK.
Nate Billet, the club’s co-leader, believes there are so many students at the school who can benefit from participation in the club.
He comments, “Everyone, especially at this age, has insecurities, pressures and problems. It is universal to want to be accepted and fit in. Many people hide these issues and don’t let others know what they are feeling.”
He notes that the statistics about teen suicides are sobering, adding, “In Washington state, two youth suicides occur every week.”
The WHS senior wants to get as many students involved in SPEAK as possible.
He says, “We want to increase awareness so that students can look out for and care for one another.”
WHS Principal Kurt Criscione is very supportive of the club and views it as a good connection to the school-based programs already created by YSPP.
He comments, “The purpose of the club is to educate ourselves and others so that we can make a difference in the lives of the people around us. Education for our students on how and when to get help for themselves, other students and the people around them struggling with depression provides a support system within our community. When students are confronted with issues of depression, they are comforted during a possibly scary time, by having the knowledge of where to go to get help.”
Getting as many people as possible out of a dark place is Pitt’s personal goal, which she hopes she can achieve through SPEAK.
“I was in a bad place,” she tells those who ask her about the scars she no longer hides and then she adds reassuringly, “It gets better. And it does. Life does get better.”