MONROE – After attempting to take her life, Piedmont High School senior Micah Fagala realized she couldn’t have been the only student consumed with depression and anxiety.
Fagala’s sophomore year was hectic. She became overwhelmed with juggling her personal life, school and volleyball.
“During that time, I felt alone,” Fagala said. “I was closed off from my family and distant from my friends. My depression consumed me, and I wanted everything to stop.”
After her suicide attempt, she had an epiphany in the hospital. She started reaching out to her peers and listening to their stories. In December 2018, she talked to her mother about an idea for a new club, where teens can talk to their peers about anxiety, depression and suicide. Her mother thought it was a great idea. She later went to school officials to start Break the Silence.
With the guidance of school counselors and club sponsors, the student-led club aims to eliminate the stigmas surrounding mental health. Members educate their peers and faculty on detecting suicide warning signs and how to recognize when a student is going through depression or anxiety.
“If there’s a video, I’ll watch it first to see if it’s appropriate for the students to watch. After that, it’s all on them,” math teacher and club supervisor Allison Behr said. “They lead and run the entire discussion.”
Despite knowing her family would have listened and provided support during her depression, Fagala didn’t feel comfortable talking to her parents. Her mother is a school nurse.
Belle Walker, the lead school social worker for Union County, said this is all too common for teens.
“Teens talk to teens,” Walker said. “Teenagers usually don’t go to their parents or teachers when it comes to how they feel, especially since there’s such a stigma surrounding mental illnesses.”
Fagala said people don’t take mental illness seriously.
“If I had a broken arm, I would have to go to the hospital and put on a cast so that I can get better,” Fagala said. “It’s the same with mental illness, but because it’s something that people can’t see, they don’t take it as serious.”
Twenty students, however, did take their mental illness seriously by attending the first club meeting to Fagala’s surprise. The number of people who attend varies. Thirteen students attended the most recent meeting.
Walker knows of a few other schools with similar clubs, but she hopes Piedmont’s Break the Silence will serve as a model for other schools to follow.
“There’s a huge need for clubs like this,” Walker said. “Some students can’t afford a therapist – with or without insurance, it’s expensive. These students are experiencing anxiety, trauma and depression. For years we have operated with few social workers. We do have a counselor in each building, and we do have a mental health therapist that has increased since I’ve been here but more needs to be done.”
More than 200 UCPS staff members will receive specific training in suicide intervention protocols by the end of the school year. In the future, Walker hopes to find a way to focus on helping parents who have children with a mental illness.
Fagala is excited to see how the club evolves. She knows it will be in good hands once she graduates. As for now, Fagala is looking forward to prom.