INDEPENDENCE — In Polk County, about one out of every 12 high school juniors say they have attempted suicide.
When asked if they had ever seriously considered suicide, the percentage more than doubles to 20 percent, according to the Student Wellness Survey.
Those figures were so alarming to students in Central High School’s Power Peers leadership class that they decided to help combat the trend. With the assistance of the Mid-Valley Suicide Prevention Coalition and Central staff, Thursday the class kicked off a year-long suicide awareness and prevention campaign.
The campaign begins with a short video entitled “Alone,” which members of the Power Peers class helped write and portrayed the characters.
It opens with main character, Alone, gazing at a card that says: “Need to talk to someone?” as he wakes up in the morning.
It’s from his high school’s counseling office and lists a time — 3:30 p.m.
Before he can make it through to 3:30, he listens to his parents fight before leaving school. He endures the Popular Girl’s group of friends making fun of him as he walks past in the hall at school. Then, he gets pushed to the ground by the school Jock.
As he walks to the back of his class, he passes the future Valedictorian already hard at work before the bell rings.
He feels depressed — alone — until he goes to the counseling office, where he makes a realization. Jacob Hamilton, who plays Alone, wants the audience to follow that journey with his character.
“I just want people to know that they are not alone,” he said.
Hamilton, Marcos Cedillo (Jock), Savannah Mendoza (Popular Girl), and Erika Leon (Valedictorian) worked on the production last spring.
Staff from the coalition, part of Polk County’s Family & Community Outreach department, met with the Power Peers class, seeking assistance from teens in helping other teens.
Doug Gouge, the program director for MVSPC, said the organization has been working with the class for the last two years. Last year, the organization presented two suicide prevention training sessions to the students.
“We feel like having youth involved in the messaging is very, very important,” he said. “I feel like youth are more likely to listen to their peers at times than they are to an adult, especially an adult they don’t know.”
Talewind Visuals, of Salem, filmed “Alone” and a second video to be released later in the school year as part of the campaign.
Thursday morning, the video was shown to all classes at Central High School and released on the high school’s and on the coalition’s websites and social media platforms in hopes of reaching as many people as possible. Each student received the same card with counseling information Hamilton’s Alone had in the video.
The production has no spoken lines. You watch what happens to Alone. The other characters’ struggles, like “anger,” “stress,” and “body image,” are written on pieces of tape on their backpacks.
“I feel like it gives off more of a message to people. There’s, like, no script involved, because then everybody has their own viewpoint on that, rather than us just saying it,” said Jasmine Gonzalez, who helped planning and production on the video.
The class hopes teens will take away the message that anyone can experience depression and hopelessness — even people with a lot of friends or academic and athletic successes.
“Honestly, everybody can be in a situation, even if it doesn’t look like it,” Gonzalez said. “As much as it looked like the Popular Girl was laughing and having a good time, it’s not always like that behind closed doors.”
Power Peers teacher Roseanna Larson said Central High School staff started the class three years ago to allow students to have a more direct effect on changing the school’s environment for the better.
“It’s a leadership class based on building positive culture at the high school,” she said. “It’s not a class where you have to run for an office or anything.”
Larson said she’s proud of the work her students have done with the video and other projects they have taken on.
“It’s so amazing to watch the growth that these students make,” she said.
Gouge agrees, saying he’s impressed with the group’s commitment to making the video and the mission behind it.
“I feel like this project allowed the youth to speak to other youth in a way that we, as adults, could never have done,” Gouge said.
Many of the students involved in the production know someone who has attempted or thought about suicide. They say that social media may be partially to blame for the increase in the numbers of their peers who consider suicide.
Miguel Rodriguez, who worked on production, said bullying is more acceptable now.
“Nowadays, people think it’s a good thing to bully people and take their anger out on someone (else),” Rodriguez said.
Class members said many of those bullies hide behind anonymity provided by some social media apps. Rodriguez said he cautions other teens that seeing what other people say on social media can be hurtful.
“It gets really personal,” he said.
Leon said the class through its campaign, wants to offer a different perspective, one that encourages people to seek help if they are struggling. The video ends showing the coalition’s slogan and hashtag #OK2ASK.
“It is OK to ask and to have somebody to talk to,” she said.
To see “Alone”: www.mvsuicideprevention.com.