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Panel breaks silence about suicide issues

by Merrie Leininger

Carson Valley residents who have been touched by suicide are bravely stepping forward to break the silence surrounding the issue.

Ten people, mostly secondary students, sit on the Yellow Ribbon Panel that will be available to speak to schools, youth groups and civic groups. Each member tells a story of how suicide has touched them or someone close to them. The group gave its presentation Tuesday afternoon to school and church officials who may want to invite the group to speak to their organizations or classes.

Elizabeth Janssen, Jessica Weisser, Jorge Alvarez, Nickee Valdez, Karen Lamb, Katie Green, Cicley Williams, Damasa Leonis and Lauren Hayes are the students on the panel, and Cindy Marchant is the lone adult, who speaks about the loss of her son, Eric.

“He had a lot of problems at school. He was picked on. His sexuality was called into question, which is pretty tough for a boy his age,” Marchant said. “We talked about a lot of options, but I didn’t want to be the mom who is always going down to the school. I would have liked a chance to have it to do over.”

She said although it has been 19 months since Eric’s death, it doesn’t get any easier.

“We’re not going to be over this anytime soon,” she said.

n Suicide attempt. Liz Janssen, a 9th grade student at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, is one of the students who tells the story of her suicide attempt.

“I felt like I was in a one-way tunnel and couldn’t do anything to get out,” she says in her speech.

Liz took a handful of pills in order to escape, she said. Because the pills were heart medication, even after her stomach was pumped she now has to live with the consequences of what she did.

“They don’t know if maybe in 30 years, or in five years if it will cause damage to my heart. That’s sort of scary because I don’t know when I’m going to have heart problems,” she said.

Liz said although it is nerve-racking to tell a group of people about her experience, she feels it also helps her.

“I thought it would help me recover from what I did to myself. It’s a way of coping with what I did,” she said. “I wanted a way to tell people not to commit suicide. I don’t think a lot of people see suicide as being real, but if you talk to people, you find a lot of people who tried it. I know maybe 10 or 15 people of all ages who have tried.”

n Communicate. Jessica Weisser, who is also a 9th grader at PWLMS, said she wanted to help people communicate about their problems.

“I decided to be on the panel because I tried to commit suicide, and I think people should know suicide is not an option,” she said.

Jessica said she understands some people will think she is doing this to get attention, but her intentions are just to “give hope to other people.”

“My situation was just everything kind of collapsed on top of me at once, and that’s when I almost took my life,” she said. “I think people need to know there is more out there for them. I don’t think a lot of people realize there are counselors and there are people that care.”

Jessica said she talks to counselors at school now when she has problems instead of just putting on a happy face.

n Help. Some students give information about the Yellow Ribbon Program. The program distributes cards with suicide help phone lines and information about how to help someone you believe is suicidal.

“It starts with being aware of the people around us. Suicide can happen to anyone. It pays no attention to stereotypes. Remember, it is very important you listen to their problems and encourage the person to talk,” said Katie Green during the wrap-up of the presentation.

Any group can invite the panel to speak. Organizer Mary Wolery said not every person on the panel has to be included in each presentation. The presentation, with all speakers, is about 40 minutes. She said she is willing to work with a group to give them the presentation that will be most beneficial. Contact Wolery at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School for more information at 265-6100.

The public is invited to the next meeting of the Yellow Ribbon Project March 21 at 2:30 p.m. at PWLMS.