Across the Universe: Suicide tough to talk about, but don’t avoid | SierraSun.com

Across the Universe: Suicide tough to talk about, but don’t avoid

I was 16 years old, a junior in high school, the first time I was faced with a first-hand situation involving suicide.

It was a Monday, and through general social circles I had learned that a senior had hung himself that weekend.

Personally, I didn't know him other than in passing through the hallways, but, as I was on the varsity football team at the time, several of my older teammates and friends knew him well.

The male student who killed himself was popular and quite intelligent, and for the most part, he seemed to have a lot going for him.

It was a tough time for his friends, some teachers and for many others in our small-town Michigan school that maybe had 350 total students. Counselors were made available if needed, and I recall the school's administration being very careful in how it handled the overall message to students.

When you mature through a small school like that, tragedies like a classmate suicide have a much-harder impact than on big-city campuses with thousands of students.

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Just like when you go shopping and see everyone around town, at our school, everyone — no matter freshman or senior, different social class or ability level — knew of everyone else.

Having spent a decent handful of times in and around some of our local schools, I would imagine the vibe to be similar, considering the smaller class sizes and the general neighborly feel of the crowds at sporting events.

It's not easy to avoid people in small communities, and, in the same vein, it's not easy to duck uncomfortable issues.

Suicide is, without a doubt, an uncomfortable issue. As you read this, stop for a moment and simply repeat the word "suicide" five times in your head. Even say it out loud a few times. It just makes you feel a bit off, right? I'm a firm believer, though, that anything that raises someone's hair a bit is worth hammering home a bit harder — in a responsible way, of course.

Since my junior year, I've had friends, and friends of friends, kill themselves, or attempt suicide, and the emotional episodes that come from these tragedies have very draining impacts on their friends, family, co-workers and other acquaintances.

It seems like every time one of these situations pops up is about the only time we dare talk about mental illness and depression, and let alone utter that stigmatic "S" word.

Well, I'm also a firm believer that is the wrong way to address important issues that impact everybody, especially when some of us deep down know there's a potential life to be saved that's close to us.

To expound on that, I want to draw readers' attention to a few things in the event they've been missed recently.

1. Starting this year, the Sierra Sun has partnered with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District and Sarah McClarie, the facilitator for the Tahoe Truckee Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, to publish monthly features about the topic of suicide, prevention efforts and other ways to identify calls for help. Sarah's message is so important that we run these features as well in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, because, regardless of TTUSD having no technical affiliation in Incline Village, this issue impacts people, state lines be damned.

2. Online this week, you will read about a wonderful program that's started at some local middle schools called "Positively Rolling." It's an incredible testament to community members and nonprofits coming together to find solutions to aid a problem. The program was created in response to a series of student suicides in the Truckee area in recent years, and if all goes to plan, it'll be coming soon to all TTUSD campuses with middle-school age children.

3. Most importantly, if you think someone needs help — or you yourself does — don't be afraid to speak up or call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

Trust me, people are more than willing to listen.

— Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun. Reach him for comment at kmacmillan@sierrasun.com.