Phillips Auditorium was nearly full on Tuesday night for a discussion on youth suicide. Most audience members were athletes — especially from the football team — and they all wore the same purple shirts. On the front, the shirt read “#WeWontBeSilent.” The back: “For the awareness and prevention of youth suicide.”
The event was hosted by Lighthouse, the mental health club on campus, the Charger Athletics program, the Hillsdale County Suicide Prevention Coalition, and featured a speaker from the Jason Foundation. The subject, youth suicide, is a silent epidemic, and the event was planned to raise awareness.
“If one life is saved, this is worth doing,” senior Lighthouse President Sarah Milback said.
The event opened with remarks from head football coach Keith Otterbein, who is coaching his 15th season for the Chargers. For Otterbein, the topic is close to his heart. In 2005, a freshman member of the football team, Adam Emery, committed suicide.
“It was right across the street in Simpson Hall,” Otterbein said. This anecdote was appropriately haunting, making the cause hit the audience at home in a new way.
The whole football team attended Emery’s funeral, but Otterbein said he wanted to do more.
“We didn’t want to just talk the talk. We wanted to walk the walk,” Otterbein said. That’s why, for the last 10 years, the Hillsdale football team has donated the proceeds of its youth camp to the Jason Foundation. Last spring, Otterbein received the Grant Teaff Breaking the Silence award for his team’s contribution.
The Jason Foundation works to increase awareness and educate people on signs of possible suicide attempts. The foundation is named after founder Clark Flatt’s son, Jason, who committed suicide.
Karen Piana spoke on behalf of the Jason Foundation on Tuesday. Piana works at a hospital that helps those battling suicidal thoughts.
“They don’t want to die,” Piana insisted. “They just have so much pain and they don’t know how to deal with it.”
In her remarks, Piana offered staggering statistics about depression, suicidal thoughts, and attempted and completed suicides among young people. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth from ages 12 to 18. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, one out of every six students seriously considers suicide every year. Around 100 students commit suicide every week, and in 80 percent of these cases, there were demonstrable warning signs that could have led to the prevention of the suicide.
Brock Lutz, Director of Health Services, said that students who struggle with suicidal thoughts or depression should take advantage of the four counsellors at Hillsdale who will speak with them. Further, if a friend confides these kind of thoughts, students should ask blunt questions.
“Don’t be afraid to be really clear,” Lutz said, echoing a theme in Piana’s speech. “Be direct. It’s best to ask head-on what’s really happening.”
Piana’s ultimate piece of advice: Tell someone. Get help. Don’t be silent.