‘Leaning’ to save a life

School-wide movement addresses teen suicide and related issues

by Josh Whitener

MONROE – Students at Monroe High School are taking a stand to prevent teen suicide. The movement, dubbed “Lean On Me,” which launched two weeks ago, focuses on the issues teens face that can spark suicide, such as bullying and depression.

The idea started with students in teacher Amy Fenton’s Honors Psychology/Sociology class. The course included a unit on suicide. At first many students took the issue lightly, until senior Cody Copeland set them straight.

“I went off on them,” Copeland said.

Copeland, 18, has experienced the effects of suicide firsthand and knows family, friends and neighbors who have either committed or attempted suicide. His perspective helped the students realize the seriousness and finality of suicide.

The class was surprised to learn just how many classmates had been affected by suicide or related issues, such as bullying, depression and loneliness.

“All the students have been very ‘wow’ with the information, solemn and taking it the way we wanted them to take it,” Fenton said.

After brainstorming, the students set up a campaign to run throughout the remainder of the school year as well as in the years to come. They put together a presentation, and Bianca Rodriguez, one of Fenton’s students, formally addressed the school’s Parent/Teacher/Student Organization (PTSO).

Rodriguez, a 19-year-old senior, experienced suicide firsthand several years ago when a good friend moved across the country and killed herself as a result of loneliness and not fitting in.

“If we can help just one person out, then the whole thing is worth it,” Rodriguez said.

The PTSO quickly agreed to be the ongoing sponsor for “Lean On Me,” beginning by funding bracelets the students wore and passed out to jumpstart the movement. The bracelets include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

The students also designed boxes that will be placed in five different areas around the school. Students will be able take a card, write down issues they may be facing – bullying, depression, thoughts of suicide or even a nagging teacher – and drop the card in the box. Several trusted teachers will collect the cards and make sure they get to the school’s counselor.

“We’re hoping it will be more than suicide,” Fenton said. “People don’t always realize what’s going on, the teachers don’t. Write it, so we know. If there’s an area where people are bothering or bullying every time you walk by, let us know so we can put someone there (to monitor the area).”

Perhaps the most hard-hitting part of the “Lean On Me” movement is a wall displaying photographs and true stories of real teens who have committed suicide. Beneath the photos are gravestones, with shocking facts and statistics written on them.

For Rodriguez, the statistics are a vital part of understanding the magnitude of teen suicide.

“It’s like even before, you know it’s happening, but you don’t know to what degree it’s happening until you actually have the numbers in front of you,” she said.

For Copeland, it’s seeing the faces.

“You’ll see the commercials all the time of people, you know, but those are actors,” he said. “I think somebody should start a campaign of real people (who have committed suicide).”

Fenton’s class hopes to put together a couple of video segments on teen suicide to show during the morning announcements before the school year ends. Because all but two of her class members are seniors, Fenton hopes the videos can encourage the younger students to get involved.

“It’s about making it an issue you can talk about,” she said. “I think that helps, that the younger classmen are like, ‘OK, this isn’t a joke.’”

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