2016-09-23 / Health & Wellness

Teens stand up against suicide

By Melissa Simon

Adrian Schemm is all too familiar with the suicidal thoughts many young people deal with.

The Grace Brethren High School senior said he was bullied as a child. As a consequence, he thought about killing himself.

“I tried to overcome the suicidal thoughts on my own, but in the end what really helped me was a kid that I went to school with. He told the bullies to back off and said if anything happened again to let him know and he would deal with it,” the 17-year-old said. “It was honestly a blessing and it helped me get back on my feet and to realize that people do care about me.”

That message of not being alone is what Adrian and fellow members of the Simi Valley Youth Council are hoping to spread at a suicide-prevention workshop Sept. 29 at the Simi Valley Public Library.

The youth council, a group of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 that advises the City Council on issues affecting young people in the community, will present the workshop in conjunction with the library and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District for National Suicide Prevention Month.

“My hope is that it encourages teens to spread the word that they aren’t alone and there are people to talk to,” Adrian said. “I know it feels like you’re stuck in a corner, but you have more of an open space than you think. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”

Youth council member Zalma Quezada, said she was personally affected when a friend attempted to commit suicide several times in sixth grade.

“It was very hard for me because she was almost successful and her parents didn’t even notice. She asked me what the point of living was if no one noticed what was going on,” the 16-year-old Santa Susana High School junior said. “I was in my first term on the youth council then and it really made me want to make a difference and help others going through similar situations.”

Zalma said she had a hand in creating the suicide prevention workshop, which is now in its second year.

“I want teens to learn how to help their friends, to seek help and not just let their friends go through it alone,” she said. “My biggest mistake when my friend was going through what she was is that I never sought help. I want to change that for others.”

‘Hope and help’

Nationally, one in every 10 high school students reports having attempted suicide, while one in every six has considered it, said Kiran Sahota, spokesperson for Ventura County Behavioral Health.

“When you think of teens and what they go through, you can’t really pinpoint one predictor of why they attempt or commit suicide,” Sahota said. “It could be sexual identity, losing a loved one, divorce, moving to a new location, or friendship or relationship issues. And we also have this thing called social media stress, which can also have an impact.”

In Ventura County between 2012 and 2014, adolescents ages 12 to 17 years old attempted suicide at a rate of 156 per 100,000, said Robert Levin, a Ventura County public health officer. The rate for adults was 78 per 100,000, he said.

“We are very concerned about suicide and we collaborate with others in the county that are mounting efforts to deal with it,” Levin said. He believes suicide is preventable.

“Suicide Prevention Month has become bigger and more important in the last few years and we’re hoping there will be more and more agencies involved that we can work with,” he continued. “We’re hoping there’ll be more and more funds available to come up with innovative projects to combat suicide.”

One such effort, Sahota said, is SafeTALK, which stands for suicide alertness for everyone, Talk, Ask, Listen and Keep safe. The training program geared toward high school students aims to prepare anyone over the age of 15 to identify people with thoughts of suicide and connect them to first-aid resources.

In addition, the Simi Valley Unified School District has a list of crisis hotlines on the back of high school students’ identification cards, which is something Sahota said she’d like to see implemented countywide.

“They say for every one person that dies from suicide, it affects 157 other people, so imagine the impact on an entire school if a student commits suicide,” she said.

“In Ventura County, we’re looking at offering hope and help when someone is in despair,” Sahota continued. “Hope is being willing to have that conversation. And oftentimes by simply taking the time to listen, that in itself can make a difference between choosing life or suicide.”

To learn about the warning signs of suicide, visit wellnesseveryday.org or suicideispreventable.org.

IN A NUTSHELL

The suicide prevention workshop is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 29 in the Simi Valley Public Library’s community room, 2969 Tapo Canyon Road. For more information, contact the library at (805) 526-1735 or visit simivalleylibrary.org.

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