LIMA — After a friend’s suicide, a Bath High School student created a branch of a suicide prevention club at her school to provide help to classmates struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“In the winter, January, I lost a friend to suicide,” Emily Vandemark, 16, a junior at Bath High School and president of the Bath High School Gatekeepers Club, said. “It was very sudden. No one should have to go through that. I wanted to spread awareness.”
Vandemark reached out to Lucy Flowers, director of school based prevention services with Partnership for Violence Free Families, about starting a Gatekeepers Club at Bath High School. Gatekeepers was started last year by PVFF and the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board Allen, Auglaize and Hardin County. It’s a student-led initiative.
“The idea is for it to be youth led, which is where Emily comes in the picture,” she said. “Actually, Emily took it upon herself to reach out to me this summer so she could get a group started here because she wanted to do something to better her community.”
Flowers said suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. The purpose of Gatekeepers is to reduce the stigma on mental health issues so children will feel comfortable asking for help. Our society tends to view depression and suicidal thoughts as a sign of weakness and attention-seeking behavior, she said, and some parents will go so far as to disbelieve their children if they broach the topic.
When people kill themselves because of depression or other mental health issues it isn’t because they want to die, Flowers said, it’s because they want to end the pain they’re in.
“(The members of Gatekeepers) kind of serve as the eyes and ears of the school,” Flowers said. “We did a survey last year through the mental health board at all schools here in Allen, Auglaize and Hardin County and 60 percent of youth responded they would go to a peer before they would go to an adult.”
Members of Gatekeepers are trained to recognize the signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, they’re trained what to say and not say to classmates having these issues and also to let an adult know when a classmate is in trouble, Flowers said.
Gatekeepers held an awareness 5K run at 9 a.m. Saturday at Bath schools. Parents, Bath students and area residents turned on to show support for the new student club.
“I think every school needs it so the kids know there’s somewhere to go for help,” said Karen Raines, whose son Connor attends Bath.
Raines said when she was going to school, and even before that, clubs like Gatekeepers didn’t exist but were needed. When a child committed suicide during those times, adults would rewrite the narrative to blame something else on the death, she said. Classmates of children dealing with depression and suicidal behavior just viewed them as odd and avoided them, or even bullied them making matters worse.
Bath High School teacher Matt Gillett became the faculty adviser for Gatekeepers because Vandemark asked him to and he was looking to get more involved with the students now that he was beginning his third year of teaching at Bath, he said. Cheerleaders, players from different athletic teams and teens who don’t participate in sports were present during the recent first meeting of the club with the exception of teen guys, Gillett said. Of the youth who attended the meeting, 27 were female and only three were male.
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362