Students at Heritage High School recently walked together to support suicide prevention and awareness as part of the school’s first Side by Side event.
The goal of the brisk lap around campus was to come together as a campus community and encourage students to think about who they could lean on or talk to in times of stress.
Some students walked in large groups taking selfies and laughing with friends. Others were more interested in reflecting on the facts they learned that morning.
“We want them to know they are not alone,” said Beth Hemby, Frisco ISD student support coordinator. “They do have someone walking beside them.”
Principal Mark Mimms agreed, crediting the school’s campus climate team with building connections and a sense of community that allows the student body to be open to talking about such a serious topic.
“We try to create relationships so that our kids feel confident they can talk to us about anything,” he said.
Suicide is now the third largest cause of death among young people ages 15-24 in the United States. The suicide rate among young males has quadrupled during the last 60 years. The numbers for females have doubled.
Though Heritage High School has not had to deal with this sad statistic, campus leaders want to raise awareness and remind students that they do have friends and adults who are willing to help.
The Side by Side walk was developed by Heritage High School administrators and counselors and is somewhat patterned after the national Out of the Darkness Walk sponsored by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In 2016, two big overnight walks are scheduled to occur in New York and San Francisco. Hemby, Heritage Associate Principal Jennifer Redden and Heritage Lead Counselor Patti Wilson were so inspired by the concept that they developed a local option that could reach an entire campus.
Redden prepared faculty to talk to students about this tough issue before the event and members of the Frisco ISD Counseling Department were on hand in case there was anyone with an immediate response to the class discussions of the day. Some supporters wore the colors purple and turquoise – the colors designated for suicide prevention.
Student Council leaders Shaizah Hasan, Brandon Short and Hannah Honesko made an effort to mingle in the crowds during the walk to get a feel for the student response.
“I talked to two girls who shared information about some family situations,” Honesko said. “They said this helps. They also thought it was cool to see a group of people participate and come together about this issue.”
Part of Side by Side was asking students to think about who they could turn to in difficult times, discussing the signs of behaviors that can indicate depression, self-injury or suicide, and techniques for showing someone you care and reporting to a trusted adult.
Short admitted that he knows it is harder for guys to share their feelings.
“An older person might not understand what guys go through today. Guys are afraid to seem weak,” he said. “You have to get in there and talk to them about video games or TV and break down their walls. You have to test the water – they might just not want to talk but they might get to where they like your presence.”
All three seniors had experiences where they had intervened with offers of friendship to someone alone and not interacting at school.
“I am always looking around in my classes. I noticed one girl who was always quiet,” Hasan said, adding that she approached the student and began talking. “Now she talks to me. I try to talk to (the isolated students) and I try to make that happen.”
The Student Council members all were pleasantly surprised by the response they saw from fellow class members during the morning walk.
“I saw really supportive response,” Hasan said. “I saw different groups taking selfies.”
Tweeting selfies during walk was one of the tasks students were encouraged to do to support the program.
Wilson and Hemby walked with the students, along with other representatives of the District’s Guidance and Counseling Department. The adults all talked to students as they made their way around the campus. They posed for selfies with students.
“Walking with the kids, you know they care about it,” Wilson said.
“We want them to know there is nothing so bad we can’t overcome it,” Hemby said.
Both agree that this program, supported so strongly by the Heritage administration, will grow.
To learn more about suicide prevention or to reach out for help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 or The Hope Line, 1.800.394.4673.