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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Community comes together to confront scourge of suicide

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Oct 6, 2023
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Members of the Weber Youth Council are pictured during the NUHOPE suicide awareness walk at the Ogden Amphitheater on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.
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Meg Sanders

Trigger warning for those who have lost someone to suicide or are currently struggling with ideations. October marks nine years since the death of my uncle, who was always the life of the party while he secretly struggled with the pain of mental illness. He could no longer fight the negative messaging his brain was sending, he couldn’t continue to watch his family worry and he died because of an untreated depression that consumed him. I know my mother and her brothers did everything they could to get him the help he so desperately needed, but in a system backlogged, expensive, misunderstood and stigmatized, help eluded him.

There are so many false narratives about depression, about suicide. I’m hardly the first person to take on the topic, write about the despair and confusion often left in its wake. Attending the annual Ogden NUHOPE walk a couple of weekends ago, I saw firsthand how losing someone to suicide is no longer rare, it’s terrifyingly common. Seats at the Ogden Amphitheater were filled with brothers, sisters, children, parents and friends who lost a loved one to mental illness. Those still here can laugh, enjoy everyday activities, celebrate milestones, but like I found to be the case with me, events like awareness walks, mental health discussions or even a paper in your kid’s backpack about Hope Week can shove you down a vortex to that terrible day.

Since the passing of my uncle, I’ve faced another loved one battling the war waged by his brain versus the other organs that want to keep him alive. Like my mother before me, I’ve stewed over the course of action I should take — do I call 911, do I drag him to a facility, do I hover outside his apartment door or do I just wait? The clearest course of action for me is to educate my children on the mental illness that pervades the genes that make up their small bodies. It’s the one small corner of the situation I can control. The cards are certainly stacked against my kids, as bipolar disorder and anxiety are on both sides of the family. It seems best to educate and, in turn, they can educate their peers.

Weber County has a lot of people dying by suicide. Those are the facts. Some would argue it’s isolation, head injuries, perpetual persecution from being born LGBTQ+, bullying, genetics, even the high altitude. Whatever the cause, Utah consistently ranks higher than average in deaths by suicide. In the past decade, suicide rates in our communities have increased by a staggering 24%. Last year, there were 25.7 suicides per 100,000 individuals, according to the Utah Department of Health. Suicide is the leading cause of death for youth age 10-24 years; these rates are nearly double the national average.

It’s dreary, it’s distressing and it won’t get better unless folks wake up and discuss the very real issues at hand. People in our community are having those discussions, probably saving lives in the process. This week, I saw the amazing organization known as the Weber Communities That Care Coalition sponsor a Hope Week Community Night at a local high school. Weber CTC also sponsors the Weber Youth Council, a group that focuses on not only volunteering, but also strives to make community connections to shrink those feelings of isolation so many of our youth are facing today. The Weber Youth Council spent the summer hosting events in the park where kids could catch a movie while enjoying popcorn and treats. These kids helped lead the NUHOPE Awareness walk through downtown Ogden. The most amazing achievement was a hike up to Ben Lomond Peak to place a light reminding our community there is hope in the dark. It’s a message for teens, given by teens.

Madline Robles, Weber CTC coordinator, sees this group’s work as a way to start an important conversation: “The work of the Weber CTC and Youth Council focuses on addressing really complex and difficult issues like substance misuse and suicide. To address these problems, we must be willing to come together to talk about these problems and be OK to have conversations about mental health. That’s why we choose to play a big part in Hope Week; it is a vital community tradition and annual reminder to all of us to spread hope and celebrate the strength we have within ourselves and our community.”

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would say activities like this are cheesy, when in reality, they are exactly what we need. As I strolled around the Weber CTC Community Night, I saw kids of all ages visiting booths that discussed therapy, I saw them connecting with school counselors, I watched small elementary kids collaborate with the big, bad high schoolers as they passed out cookies, stickers and goody bags. Weber CTC was building the community I fear is being diminished by the constant arguing over political differences, instead of focusing on the common ground of wanting our youth to thrive. Robles explains, “The Weber CTC Youth Council is vitally important because they provide the perspective and wisdom of the young people in our community. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to work with the youth knows that they are full of brilliant ideas, an abundance of contagious energy and they are destined to build a bright and exciting future for all of us. They are ready to have these difficult conversations and solve big problems; we just have to be ready to listen and provide them with the opportunities to be the change-makers that they are.”

The collective efforts of organizations like Weber CTC, United Way, Weber School District’s Hope Squads, teachers, the Buddy Benches on the playground, Ogden Pride and the individuals who are willing to work toward a solution all will make a difference. Through unity and compassion, we can all foster a brighter future for our kids and families, where their lives won’t be dwindled down to a statistic, but a life full of experiences that make them grateful to be alive.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.

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