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ESHS students plan presentation for suicide awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the students of Excelsior Springs High School’s second hour psychology class are taking this opportunity to shed light on a dark issue. To do so, students have separated into groups and are giving a presentation to both freshmen students and students at Excelsior Springs Middle School.

The Standard talked with senior Cayge Allen, whose group is focusing on the 9th graders, about the project.

“We are going to be talking to freshman about how it’s okay to have those issues. I feel like a lot of people feel like it’s something that is frowned upon – and it is – but in some ways it (feeling depressed) is unpreventable. It happens, so we want to make sure everyone has the resources to be able to have help with that. We want them to know that they are not alone,” Allen said.

As part of the presentation, Allen, who has suffered from depression, and another classmate will be telling their stories. The group will also have prepared statistics on teenage depression and anxiety, healthy ways to alleviate the feelings and will tune them in to resources at their disposal, such as the suicide prevention hotline, which also provides a text-in feature, and information about Tri-County Mental Health.

Hanging up in the high school commons, there are posters created by Allen and his classmates with uplifting words and the suicide hotline listed on them.

“One of the reasons I wanted us to hang up those posters is because I don’t feel like realistically every kid is going to go to an adult if they are feeling a certain way. So if they are feeling bad, they can just take a picture of that hotline number and use it to call or even text in. It’s hard to express out loud what you want to say sometimes, so that text feature is really cool,” Allen said.

According to a study published last fall in the Pediatrics Journal, the national trend of depression among adolescents is on the rise, a fact that Allen echoes when discussing the mental health climate of his peer group.

“I think that it’s something people try to sweep under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist, but I definitely see it all around me. Since I’ve been through it myself, there are signs that are very telling,” he said. “That’s why we want to reach out to the freshman. I’m a senior and I feel like to a lot of the kids in my grade – and even myself – if I had known all of the resources at an earlier age, I may have been more open to getting help instead of looking for solutions in other things.”

Allen’s experience with depression is the foundation for his passion toward awareness.

“Depression is an ongoing thing. I don’t feel like it’s something that ever ends. It’s something you cope with more and more and you learn to overcome and be happy with yourself and accept it.”

Allen explains that students with packed schedules can have an even more difficult time coping. He lists juggling extracurricular activities, after-school jobs, school obligations and life in general as being overwhelming to anyone, but even more so for those struggling with anxiety and/or depression.

“It’s very overwhelming to have all of that on your plate – that’s why it’s very important to have these resources known to you and to get help. I can’t tell you how much I would have loved to have had someone like myself to help me and make me feel way less alienated by what I was going through.”

The presentations will be previewed by the school principal and after approval will be given this week, as the school year starts to wind down.

“I know in our small town we may not hear about suicide a lot,” Allen said. “But I don’t want this to be a thing where we wait for someone to actually do it before we start putting out resources. We want to make it something that we can talk about. It’s okay to talk about it. We want to do anything and everything to prevent it from happening.”

Writers note: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, please reach out. The 24/7 suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.  The Tri-County Mental Health 24-hour crisis line is 1-888-279-8188. To learn more about their services, visit tri-countymhs.org.

By Skyla Sullivan • skyla@leaderpress.com

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