Sixteen-year-old Mckayla Mejia believes children and teens struggling with depression, anxiety, or suicide would rather talk to a peer.
That’s part of what motivated the Toledo School for the Arts student to volunteer to be an ambassador with the Lucas County Suicide Prevention Coalition. She’s one of the first high school students across Lucas County to join the program, aimed at training students in Lucas County high schools who can spread suicide prevention awareness and destigmatize mental illness.
“I feel like, if you have other people who have this knowledge base close to your age ... it makes you feel like you’re not the only person that’s like this,” she said. “It’s hard when you’re talking to an adult or to people who haven’t gone through that. You feel like they don’t really understand.”
Bracelets to help spread the word about suicide prevention were available during a training for high school students.
Mckayla and four other teens spent Thursday afternoon in student ambassador training, learning from coalition members about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and resources. The training especially hit home, as that same afternoon a local family was planning a funeral for their teenage son.
Luken Boyle, a 14-year-old incoming freshman at Central Catholic High School, died by suicide July 31, a preliminary ruling from the Lucas County Coroner’s Office shows. Luken’s family did not want to comment, but an obituary published in The Blade included a warning about the devastation online bullying can inflict.
“Words cannot express the pain and heartache brought on by one impulsive decision as a result of cyber bullying,” the boy’s obituary read.
Toledo police spokesman Sgt. Kevan Toney said investigators are looking into “all the possible leads around the suicide at this time.”
Becca Meiers, a coalition member who facilitated the workshop, said there’s now a term for that type of death: bullycide.
Kenna Edwards, 15, of Southview High School catches a ball and answers some questions about herself as part of an icebreaking exercise during a training session Thursday for high school students sponsored by the Lucas County Suicide Prevention Coalition at the United Way offices.
If bullying were taking place only at school or only in the neighborhood, kids used to be able to still go home and feel safe, coalition coordinator Jan Burgard-Moore said.
“Now, everybody’s got a cell phone and everybody is online all the time. It follows you everywhere. There isn’t that escape,” she said.
Sylvania Southview High School student Kenna Edwards, 15, said cyber bullying happens daily, whether it’s through insults sent on Twitter or Snapchat, or mean comments posted on Facebook and Instagram pages set up to “rate” photos of students and their peers.
Her mother, Cindy Edwards, works in Southview’s front office and said she has noticed an uptick in calls from parents and students related to online bullying.
“The cyber bullying, the social media issues have exploded in the last two years,” she said. “It has become almost the major thing that they’re dealing with.”
Coalition leaders are hopeful the student ambassador program will lead to more youth speaking up about mental health and suicide, and speaking out when they witness bullying, online or otherwise. Mrs. Burgard-Moore believes mental wellness should be part of a school’s curriculum from kindergarten on.
“We’ve been really targeting the schools to get the message out as young as we can,” she said. “That’s what’s going to prevent the suicides from happening. It’s not a comfortable topic, but the more we talk about it, the more comfortable it will become.”
She urged educators to call 419-243-1119 to bring the ambassador program to their school. Students of all ages can get involved in Bullfrogs Against Bullying, a peer-led group that meets each month, by emailing email@example.com.
The suicide hotline is 800-273-8255. The local Kids in Crisis hotline is 419-262-0728.