On Sunday, March 17, teens and parents gathered at St. Martin’s-in-the-Field Episcopal Church for “Let’s Talk: Suicide Prevention and Awareness,” organized by Katrina Schultz and Parker Cross, both juniors at Severna Park High School. The afternoon was an opportunity for open discussion about the suicide epidemic, the problems in Severna Park culture that are at the root of it, and how our community can move forward in solving the problem. Here is a transcript of the speech that Cross delivered to the crowd expressing her feelings, as a Severna Park teenager and someone who has lost a friend to suicide, about the issue. A PDF of information available at the meeting, including resources, tips and warning signs, can be found here .
My name is Parker and I’m here because I would like to shine a light on some of the problems this town faces and talk about how we, as a community, can help to fix them. I would first like to talk about how none of us here qualifies as good enough in this Severna Park town. Second, I would like to discuss how the system we are supposed to go to and trust, is constantly failing us as a whole, and it may not even technically be their fault. And lastly, how can we fight to change this by realizing that being nice isn’t always enough.
You better have a variety letter. How about straight A’s? Parents are still together, right? Why aren’t you in RNR? I’m hoping you’ve at least started applying for colleges! What about clubs and honor societies … don’t forget those. Come on! You’re only in four AP classes? No one thinks you’re pretty enough. Have you stepped on the scale? You’re a lot heavier than you should be. I’m confused. Your parents don’t let you drink?
How about we each think about some of those questions I just asked. Being a teenager in this area, those are the expectations. Now whether they stem from the parents, the school or other peers, those are still part of the pressures teens face every day.
On top of all of that, many of us in this room, and in the entire community, suffer from mental health problems. Now, instead of talking about them like you would if perhaps you had the flu or pneumonia, we, as a whole, feel like it is wrong to have mental health problems, so we sit in silence, feeling trapped and alone and even afraid to reach out for help. And never mind if we do, because who will listen? And is it too late?
For instance, there is help in our school, yet they are underpaid, overworked and aren’t given the proper resources to help in the ways we really need. Last week, I talked to my guidance counselor with my mom and we realized that each counselor has approximately 400 students to work with, including scheduling, college recommendations, financial aid, bullying and mental health problems. No wonder it is so hard to get a free chance to speak to them; they have so many other things to do! And we do have a school psychologist who is really helpful, yet she is only one person for about 1,800 students.
Now, there are other people to reach out to, yet we are never really told about it because there is a stigma in this area not to talk about it. Just erase mental health. Pretend like it doesn’t exist, because if we don’t talk about it, we are still perfect Severna Park.
Recently, I have learned how much help our community does have to offer. I lost one of my best friends to suicide, and since then, I was informed of so many different resources that are offered to help us that no one even knew about. I couldn’t be more thankful. I just wish that students just like me would have known about that before someone is dead, before someone is even just hopeless.
I hope today we can all acknowledge that the mental health system isn’t perfect, but it is here, and there are always ways for us as a community to help fix the random holes in the system and join together to be supportive with each other.
Now, I would like the start off this next topic by stating that we are all very nice. We wave to each other and smile and ask how our day has been. We even check in on our friends when their days are bad and watch movies with them, even eat ice cream. It’s really nice. We are all really nice, but is nice really enough for this community? We need to care. We need to listen and we need to be able to tell when someone isn’t good.
Everyone smiles, and trust me on that one. They smile because they don’t want you to know they are hurting. They say, “Oh, I’m fine, just tired,” or, “Yeah, I’m OK,” just so they can get you to believe everything is perfect and you can feel like a better person for even checking on someone.
But why don’t you start actually caring and paying attention to people? This goes for both the giver and the receiver. Start telling people how you really are, and start opening yourself up to people who are willing to listen. Be a listener, and really listen and pay attention to someone’s story. And what is your story? Don’t be afraid to share. Don’t be afraid to break the mold of Severna Park and not be OK, perfect, or even happy.
And when someone does share with you, recognize their strength. Recognize their ability to go against the norm and make them feel safe. They are speaking for a reason. Everyone is. And most importantly, recognize that they are not alone. If no one else, you are there and you are listening. Help them find their voice with a professional who really can help them.
And remind them, and yourself, that it’s OK to not be OK.