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Nationally renowned mental health speaker, Mike Veny spoke to Hillsdale-area high schoolers, Oct. 12. mikeveny.com | Courtesy

 

Nationally renowned mental health speaker Mike Veny brought a message of hope and encour­agement to Hillsdale-area high school stu­dents.

Nearly 1,700 high school stu­dents packed the Roche Sports Complex on Thursday for a pre­sen­tation on suicide pre­vention and awareness. Nine area high schools were rep­re­sented. Youth Oppor­tu­nities Unlimited Throughout Hillsdale, a program run through Hillsdale County Com­munity Foun­dation, orga­nized the event as part of a new cam­paign to help combat suicide and self-harm.

“We’ve seen a really high rise in numbers of self-harm in our area stu­dents,” said HCCF Pres­ident Sharon Bisher.  “We’ve had, in the last few years, some kids commit suicide, which has caused some major ripples inside of our schools.”

Bisher said HCCF is not aware of any spe­cific reason behind the rise in sui­cides, though there are con­tributing factors in the com­munity.

“There’s always pres­sures inside the schools.  They don’t always have the resources to help that child who is strug­gling to find a college, find a future, find their way in the world,” Bisher said. “We have a high pop­u­lation of poverty in our com­munity. We also have a high rate of child abuse. And so I think these kids are living trau­matic lives and they don’t have the coping mech­anism to deal with that.”

Mike Veny, the speaker at Thursday’s event, is familiar with suicide attempts and pre­vention.  By age 15, Veny had been expelled from three schools, spent three dif­ferent stints in a mental hos­pital, attempted suicide several times, and was self-harming. He is now married and speaks pro­fes­sionally at high schools and cor­porate events around the country.  His message to stu­dents on Thursday was simple.    

“When you’re stuck in that bad place — and we all have been there — you can do some­thing about it,” Veny said. “It’s not the end of the world, and you just have to be proactive about it.”

Area stu­dents were receptive to Veny’s words and agreed to open the dis­cussion of mental health at their schools.

“It was very eye-opening and it really hit home for me,”  Jonesville High School freshman Braxton Wagner said. “I do think it is an issue all around. I think it has a lot to do with cliques and it’s the way people treat others, and just a lack of respect between a lot of people.”  

Isabella Jiles, also a freshman at Jonesville High School, said she was struck by Veny’s words on the com­mon­ality of mental illness.

“It really hit when he was saying that he wouldn’t be giving this talk about the common cold,” Jiles said. “Because people usually take physical illness more seri­ously than mental ill­nesses.”

The cam­paign aims to start the con­ver­sation through two com­po­nents.  The first is a peer group program called Pure Lis­tening Teams. The Pure Lis­teners are trained in basic coun­seling skills as well as suicide pre­vention.

“We want to empower these kids to have a peer-to-peer group that they can go to and have somebody they can talk to in a con­fi­dential manner,” Bisher said. “And then, if some­thing arises out of that, then those Pure Lis­teners have con­tacts. So they can go and say, ‘I think this student might need some addi­tional help.’”

The second part of the cam­paign is a social media hashtag, #iwontbe­silent, created in part­nership with the Jason Foun­dation, a non-profit orga­ni­zation cen­tered around youth suicide awareness and pre­vention.  

“It’s ‘I won’t be silent when I see someone in need. I won’t be silent if I need help. I  won’t be silent when I see bul­lying and inap­pro­priate rumors and things inside the school,’” Bisher said.

The cam­paign, Bisher says, is a way to start the con­ver­sation about mental health and to bring a message of hope to the stu­dents.

“We knew that there was a lot of emo­tional stress, like depression or pressure to succeed,” Bisher said. “We wanted to create a cam­paign that would give them some tools to use, to let them under­stand that there was hope and that there’s not one among them who doesn’t have that same anxiety.”