Shining a light on the darkness of youth suicide

Suicide is not a subject people like to think or talk about.

But many children today face struggles that make them consider ending their own lives and in some cases attempt or commit suicide.

After attending a bully prevention workshop in Jennings County in June 2018, Catherine DuBois, assistant principal at Seymour High School, and Heather VonDielingen, the Jackson County 4-H youth development educator, began a grassroots suicide prevention council. Their goal? To bring awareness, education and vigilance to the community.

Now, they, along with representatives from Centerstone, the Jackson County Health Department and Mental Health America of Jackson County, are working to shine a light on the dark topic of youth suicide by bringing people together for a conversation.

The public is invited to attend a free screening and discussion of the documentary “REJECT: The Science of Belonging” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Jackson County Learning Center, 323 Dupont Drive, Seymour. Those attending should bring their own lunch.

The film takes an in-depth look at social rejection with a solution-oriented focus on the roots of suicide, bullying and violent behavior, said Molly Marshall, health and human sciences extension educator with Purdue Extension Jackson County.

“It aims to raise public consciousness about the serious and potentially lethal consequences of interpersonal rejection in its many forms — peer bullying, parental neglect or abuse, race discrimination and other forms of social rejection across all age groups,” she said.

From 2011 to 2015, suicide was the second-leading cause of death in ages 15 to 34 and the third-leading cause of death among kids 10 to 14 years of age, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s 2017 Suicide in Indiana Report.

The report showed Jackson County had 31 suicides, 87 hospitalizations and 56 emergency department visits as a result of suicide attempts over the same time period.

The same report showed that 29 percent of high school students in Indiana reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two consecutive weeks or more resulting in changes in behavior. Another 10 percent reported they had attempted suicide, and 20 percent seriously considered attempting suicide.

Of the students who attempted suicide, only 34 percent asked for help from someone before their attempt, such as a doctor, counselor or hotline, according to the state’s report.

“These are staggering numbers and especially alarming to those who work with youth on a daily basis,” Marshall said.

Mental health conditions aren’t always visible, however, like a physical condition.

“Individuals may be viewed in a negative way because of their behaviors,” said Melanie O’Neal, executive director of Mental Health America of Jackson County. “Others’ judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Increasing awareness and education in our community will help fill this gap. Education about mental health can make a big difference.”

DuBois said the film helps start a conversation about how suicide, depression and aggression can impact a community.

“By raising awareness and opening communication, we hope to impact change for our youth and our county,” she said.

Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator with the Jackson County Health Department, said talking about suicide is difficult because it is so devastating to those left behind.

“People don’t know what to say or do,” she said. “This is why an understanding of the issues causing that behavior is so important and then finding a way to empower individuals to do what they can to be of assistance in preventing the actions as well as supporting those who have experienced the loss.”

After the screening, there will be a facilitated discussion about the film, the effects of rejection and ostracism and ways to overcome and prevent violence and tragedy, Marshall said.

Mental health resources will be available from Centerstone and Mental Health America of Jackson County, too.

“For so long, mental health struggles have been swept under the rug, so to speak, and there was little discussion about these concerns,” said Becky Bujwid with Centerstone. “I think this secrecy has helped to add to the stigma that struggling with mental health issues is something to be ashamed of and kept to oneself.

“Keeping things inside helps to make us sick. Secrets keep one sick,” she added. “What a heavy weight is lifted when we can talk about such issues in an open and nonjudgmental way with people we know care about us.”

The screening and discussion is open to anyone but strongly benefits parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, coaches, mental health professionals, clergy, counselors, social service providers and judges, Marshall said.

“Anyone entrusted with influence over others and in a position to foster acceptance, inclusion and social connection,” she said. “Anyone, no matter what position or stage of life they are in, can benefit from watching this film.”

It’s the group’s goal to continue to offer the film to the general public, staff trainings or in a professional development setting.

“There can never be too much education and raising of awareness around any topic that impacts the individual, family or community,” Montgomery said. “There is so much stigma surrounding mental health issues, substance abuse, bullying and the negative responses to being bullied. Discussions must be held to bring these topics to the forefront and make conversations easier.”

One of the main messages in the film is the importance of showing respect and kindness toward others, Bujwid said.

“We never know what is going on in someone’s mind,” she said. “Everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Taking the time to show some kindness toward one another can be what is needed for them to make a good choice that day. We need to build people up instead of tearing them down.”

DuBois said there doesn’t need to be more laws regulating mental health, but there does need to be increased access to mental health services, more funding and more education about the benefits of mental health. She compared the issue to a wearing a seat belt.

“I remember when I was younger, no one wore seat belts. There was a stigma around wearing a seat belt,” she said. “Everything about that seat belt made sense. It kept you safe. Today, 90 percent of drivers use their seat belt. Mental health is like a seat belt. It provides protection in moments of crisis.”

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What: Screening of the documentary "REJECT" and discussion on how rejection can lead to youth violence, self-harm and suicide

Where: Jackson County Learning Center,

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., attendees should bring their own lunch

RSVP by calling 812-358-6101 or emailing [email protected].

For more information about REJECT, visit