Off topic: Suicide awareness

This week’s post is off topic from Cape May, but on topic for millennials. Today I needed to talk about a topic that has become far too close to home lately – suicide. Between the debate about Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why series “glamorizing suicide” to this week when my brother Michael lost a friend, who took his own life, the topic is being swept under a rug.

Growing up in Northern Virginia (NoVa), the school environment is extremely competitive and intense. You will be told that you needed to take all honors or AP classes to get into a good state college. When I attended Woodson High school, the guidance counselors only knew how to tell you what classes you should take, not how to deal with mental health issues. Some of the assistant principals are more concerned with your attendance than the reasons behind the absence.

There is a real issue when a school is ready to set up a student for homebound studies or place them in special classes because they don’t understand that the reason for absences was anxiety due to pressure. Yes, I’m talking about my personal first-hand experience.

When I went to Woodson, the school was not equipped to handle mental health issues. They chose to treat school related anxiety as an absence causing behavioral problems. Because why not punish a student for skipping school, without trying to evaluate why she felt like she couldn’t walk in the front door every morning.

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With my best friend Lindsay, after graduating from Woodson, 2012.

Outside of Woodson, I sought professional help. Years of therapy and personal persistence (which I credit to my love of writing and journalism), I overcame my mental health battle with anxiety to graduate from Woodson. But there are Woodson students who never had the chance to graduate, because of an environment that drove them to take their lives.

Six suicides in three years. SIX kids who will never get the chance to live their lives. For reasons such as the school’s zero tolerance policy on drugs, to intense school pressure being too much. And as of last week, a seventh student chose to take their life from the pressures of being a junior. A kid that Michael and our neighbor James knew.

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Woodson grads show support after the week where two students committed suicide in 2014.

Kids this young aren’t unaware of tragedy, but measuring the years in suicides is just wrong. My brother said to my mom, “it’s been three years since someone at Woodson committed suicide.” For so long, I blamed Woodson, knowing how poorly they helped me during my time there. But then recently I’ve realized it’s not just Woodson, it’s not just Fairfax County…it’s the entirety of NoVa and the ridiciulous pressure put on these kids to get over a 4.0 gpa. And get into a Virginia college, where even a well-rounded student with suboptimal grades is rejected.

I didn’t post last week to my blog, partly because I was traveling, but also because I was mentally drained after finding out about the latest suicide. For all the ones that happened at Woodson, I didn’t personally know any of the kids who died. But with the suicide, last week, my brother and our neighbor, were friendly with him. They even spoke to him earlier in the week and he projected that everything was fine. No one realized until it was too late.

And how do you survive with the guilt of knowing you talked to someone days before they ended their life? How could you not notice they were in pain? These thoughts ran through my mind while I thought about Michael and James, and what they were going through. I can’t imagine it, but I know that it is never easy. The best we as siblings, friends, parents, teachers can do, is be more vigilant. It’s not worth pressuring these kids to go above and beyond in school, if they aren’t even making it through high school.

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Hugging Principal Jeff Yost after graduation, someone who helped me in my time at WTW.

The amount of pressure and pushing of these young adults is not only having detrimental affects, but ultimately it is not worth it! The Washington Post covered the cluster suicides in 2014, and in 2016 a fellow Woodson alumnae and friend Robyn, cowrote a piece about the school’s attempts to make change.

Ever since I realized that talking personally about my anxiety could make a difference, then I would do so and not be embarassed by the stigma.  I’m here today on this platform of my choice, to shout from the top of the hill that IT DOES GET BETTER! There is always help offered, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Your life is precious and there is always hope even in the darkest places.

If you’re feeling helpless, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, open 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

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