During the 2015 Academy Awards, Dana Perry won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject and shocked the audience when she dedicated the win to her son Evan, whom she “lost to suicide.” She went on to say that “we should talk about suicide out loud.”
And so the conversation begins.
Suicide is not something to which our town is immune. In January, a 19-year-old Santa Catalina graduate and a 20-year-old Stevenson graduate committed suicide. At the beginning of March, a CHS class of 1991 alumnus died in what is reported to be another suicide.
This prevalence of suicidal thoughts among students and former students in the area is supported by the 2012-2013 California Healthy Kids Survey. According to the survey, 15 percent of CHS freshman and juniors report having seriously considered attempting suicide during the past 12 months.
“Even the student that might feel the loneliest is never alone,” CHS counselor Kate Miller says.
Suicide is not reserved for the quiet, “weird” kid who doesn’t fit in: It is limited to no one and affects many. One of the most well-known staff members on CHS campus has dealt with suicide firsthand.
“When I was younger, I went through some really hard times, and I was so depressed that I contemplated suicide,” attendance secretary, mother figure and friend Ann Berry says. “I was very lucky because, the first time, I know it was God’s intervention that saved me, and the second time I was just hurting so bad that something clicked inside of me that said, ‘I’ve got to find an answer,’ because I had a daughter that I was responsible for.”
Now, after working at CHS for over 35 years, Berry says there are so many times she has looked back and realized that if she had taken her life, she never would have been able to experience all the amazing things that have happened since.
“Those were the darkest moments of my life, and I know what that pain is like. When you hold it inside, it only becomes a bigger cancer. When I started talking about it and trying to find answers, that’s when I started healing inside myself…it still took years, but I came out of that darkness.”
CHS staff and mental health experts agree that the most important thing for an individual to do is talk.
“When suicide happens, people try to cover it up, not talk about it,” AP Psychology teacher Nora Ward says. “It needs to be addressed, not hidden.”
Ward shares her own experiences with suicide when she recalled an incident in her sophomore year of high school, when she woke up to the sound of wailing in her house coming from her sister’s room.
“She had slit both her wrists,” Ward says. “My dad was in such shock that he could not do anything but cry. I wrapped her wrists in towels, put her and my dad in the car and drove to the hospital. She was fine, but it was very traumatic.”
At our own local hospital, the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, suicide is dealt with frequently. Crisis unit worker William Brooke explains that if a patient is brought into the hospital for suicidal thoughts, ER staff takes care of them and contacts crisis service. A crisis nurse interviews and evaluates the patient to help determine the level of risk and kind of resources the patient will then need.
Yet one female CHS student, who suffers from depression and has been taken to the hospital twice for attempted suicide and once for suicidal thoughts, feels that hospitals handle suicide poorly.
“There’s no compassion, and there’s very little understanding,” she says. “I think there’s a huge stigma on suicide, and even the people who are supposed to help you through the most difficult thing anyone can go through, even they have judgments about it.”
A friend of hers thinks there is a deeper problem in the medical system.
“Pharmaceutical companies and doctors get paid based on how many prescriptions they give out,” he comments. “I think that societally, there is a false sense of drugs being the answer.”
The student who attempted suicide, however, says she has greatly benefitted from her antidepressants and notes that the time she caused herself the most harm was when she suddenly stopped taking her medication. She urges others dealing with depression to take their medication regularly, as hard as it may be.
“My depression was there all the time,” she notes. “It’s something that you can’t run away from. I would wake up every morning and either be so exhausted that I physically couldn’t get out of bed, or I would cry because I woke up at all.”
In addition, she notes how hard it is to talk and be open about her experiences because people think she’s seeking attention.
“It’s such a romanticized and dramatic thing these days, but there’s absolutely nothing beautiful about trying to kill yourself. There’s nothing sexy or dark and intriguing about it. It’s horrible. Even though when you’re depressed you don’t feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, there is. It really, really, really gets better.”
Societally, the issue of suicide is not going away. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2013 a person in the United States died from suicide every 12.8 minutes. However, the path to progress is educating and discussing these issues.
When Graham Moore won an Oscar this year, he shed light on the issue and said in his acceptance speech: “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and so I would like this moment to be for that kid who’s out there who feels weird or feels different or feels she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do.”