I attended a small rural high school about three hours west of Oshawa. When I think of a small high school like the one I attended, I think of closeness and simplicity. I think of a place where everyone knows everyone, where news travels fast, and where your prom takes place in the high school gym. Nothing bad ever seems to happen, so when it does, it hits the community hard.
Last week, the small high school I attended had to grieve the loss of a sixteen-year-old student. He committed suicide. I didn’t know him personally, but like hundreds of other community members, I feel the loss with a heavy heart. My brothers still attend the high school, and my mom still supplies as a vice principal there. I see friends on Facebook sharing his obituary with comments suggesting he was “always smiling” and was “always nice to everyone.” After a week of trying to make sense of the event, I decided to finally put my thoughts into words.
My dad called me the other night and told me how upset my mom was about this student’s passing, and how as a principal she always has the mentality that things can become better for every student. She said, only weeks before his passing, he was singing karaoke at a school assembly, to which he said “I didn’t think I had it in me.” From an educator’s perspective, this only seemed like progress. A student that was usually shy and uncomfortable was coming out of his shell, and was doing things that made him seem fearless. My dad then proceeded to tell me that when he was a teenager, he never heard of anyone committing suicide. In my short nineteen years, I can name four people. I can name four high school students that struggled so much with their mental illness that they decided to take their own lives, all of which had peers post things like “they were always smiling” and “they were so friendly to everyone” with a link connecting to an obituary that should not yet exist.
Losses like this confuse and frustrate me. I see so easily online the amount of support that is offered. Unfortunately, this support becomes so evident when it is too late. I’m not saying support doesn’t exist offline – it certainly does – but I’m saying that it breaks my heart to see the utmost support when it is too late. I wish that someone had recognized the hurt in each person lost to suicide before they were gone. I wish that instead of hiding behind a smile, people were real and honest about how they feel, and I wish the receivers of those messages only listened to understand and were empathetic. Again, I’m not saying this is always the case. I know a lot of people that express the need for support while dealing with mental health issues. I mean, UOIT’s Mental Health Services are always busy assisting a number of students. To me, that is excellent news because it means that people care about themselves enough to get help they feel they need.
I don’t know if I still have completely comprehended how I feel about writing this post. I think we will always be confused about suicide, and mental illness as a whole. I think overall, I want the experiences I have had as a community member who has witnessed the devastation of suicide on a community to help others. Please, please, PLEASE – if you ever feel lost, if you ever feel worthless, talk to someone. I have seen so often how willing people are to help a stranger. It’s human nature. We help one another. Look for the Campus Connected stickers on laptops, seek out the help of your friends, teachers, parents, whoever you trust; people want you around. I wish I didn’t have this weight on my chest. I wish I didn’t have to feel so sad for the family and friends of the boy who attended my old high school. I wish he knew how missed he is. I wish he knew that someone he never even met wishes he was still here.
I hope someday that all suicidal thoughts can be overcome. I hope all people will one day realize that there is so much more to life than what is happening in the moments you feel worthless. I hope someday, all people believe that the world wants more for them, and that there are so many people that want to help conquer mental illness.
I’m going to leave off with a quote by Phil Donahue: “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Please let people in. Let them help you if you feel you need it. No matter who you are, you’re too much to lose.