Kaylee Riemel does not want to know what it’s like to lose a friend or someone she knows.
The sophomore at Wilber-Clatonia High School recently joined the W-C Suicide Prevention Coalition as a way to raise awareness and be active in discussions of mental health.
“I don’t want to sit at my graduation and have seats open,” Riemel said.
The coalition was formed after the 2013-2014 academic year, when a string of tragedies including suicides took place in the community, specifically.
“As our superintendent says, ‘tragedies can open a window to opportunities,’” high school principal Mark Fritch said.
Currently, there are an estimated 20 members in the coalition.
In honor of September being Suicide Awareness Month, the coalition will host a QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) training session Sept. 11 and a docu-series presentation of “The Mind Inside” which will feature students from Wilber.
Members agree that there is a stigma associated with mental health and suicide, but that is not stopping them from starting a conversation about either one.
“We’re afraid of suicide but not the word ‘suicide,’” Fritch said.
Riemel said the view of suicide and depression is something not discussed in the hallways, even if the conversation is becoming more open.
She thinks teens always being on their phones and being connected through social media has something to do with this.
“We’re always together a lot more (through technology),” Riemel said. “It’s harder to get away from your problems because it’s been expanded so much.”
But that doesn’t stop Riemel and her friends from checking in with one another if they notice something is off during school hours.
“I don’t know if other friend groups are as open as we are, but we are really supportive of one another,” Riemel said.
Different perspectives through generations may also be what makes the subject of mental health difficult to address.
Adult coalition members said when they were in high school, talking with classmates about suicide was something almost never done, if ever. Their problems didn’t follow them home like today’s teens and they were able to move on.
But these differences don’t mean the discussion of mental health and suicide is ignored or avoided.
Wilber-Clatonia guidance counselor Amie Albrecht said the reaction from parents when she makes calls home about their child’s mental health has shifted from when she first began in 2011.
“When the crisis is on the table, parents are asking me ‘Alright. where can we go to get help?’” Albrecht said.
In fact, as of 2015, it is required by state law that all employees of Nebraska schools must receive suicide awareness training. It is carried out through multiple formats such as role-playing or other intervention programs.
For students of Wilber-Clatonia, Paul Kraus, a therapist with ESU 6 comes to the school every Thursday.
Other local community resources include the Crete Area Medical Center, Blue Valley Behavioral Health Center and other local private counseling practices in the area.
The coalition urges people who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health to reach out and talk to someone, anyone they feel comfortable being around.
“We don’t want to see kids go through that,” Michele Vana, coalition member said. “If we just help one person, then we as a coalition have done what we came to do.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Blue Valley Behavioral Health Center in Crete at their all-hours line at 1-877-409-6600.