Project Broward: Peer Counseling hosts Suicide Prevention Event

by Kiera Cerino

POSITIVI-TEA: Juniors Samantha Soskin and Alison Cohen stand behind a table serving lemonade to event participants. Peer Counseling hosted the event to raise awareness about suicide prevention and how it affects the West Broward community.  Photo by Kiera Cerino

As students look across the courtyard, they see a variety of tables designed to catch their interest. Once students came up to the tables, they were greeted by their fellow classmates and were given more information about the facts and statistics behind teen suicide. Death by suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens. Teen suicide rates have risen 47 percent since 2000, averaging over 6,000 suicides of people ages 15 to 19 in 2017, according to PBS. 

On Sept. 13, Peer Counseling students stood at tables in the courtyard to raise awareness about suicide prevention week, hosting different activities to catch the students’ interest. With tables handing out lemonade, having students writing and literally tossing their stressful thoughts, a photo booth and hula hoop contests, Peer Counseling used a negative topic and focused more on the positive aspects of the week rather than the darker parts. 

“I found that after the event, there wasn’t a change over the topic of suicide, but more students came to me asking about joining and being more involved in the events we’re hosting,” said Peer Counseling adviser Gina Cunicelli-Carlton. 

Mental illness is a continually rising issue in teens, and the reasons to inform students of the help they can receive has become more prevalent. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of teen suicide, so Peer Counseling brought the event to our community to raise awareness about the causes and how students can receive treatment, while spreading postivity to their classmates. 

“To be a part of this event was great because it was our very first activity as peer counselors so we were able to get our name out there while holding activities to inform, support, and encourage others,” said senior Jasmeen Noel. “There was a lot of student involvement and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.” 

One in every six teens suffers from mental illness, but only 50 percent of those teens receive mental health treatment. Around 90 percent of those who have taken their own lives showed signs of a mental health condition, while only half of those affected were diagnosed, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).   As many students are unaware of the resources that are available for them to receive, peer counselors sharing this information with their classmates allows for a decrease in the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.

“This event was created to spread positivity around our school and to show people that there are always people there for you,” said junior Emma Bonfield. “People are able to come to their peers if they need or want help, which can help make West Broward a better place.”

The average delay between when someone starts to show mental illness symptoms and when they get treated is around 11 years, according to NAMI. As most mental illness begins at approxiametely 14 years old, the Suicide Prevention event allows for the peer counselors to tell their classmates the treatment options before the average delay. 

“Events like this one help students to understand that they are not alone in what they are feeling. It brings students to open up about their own struggles, and it brings the community of West Broward High School together,” said junior Carly Caraza. “They made the event more positive by allowing students to celebrate life in a fun way. The event shined a light on the ways that life is good and important, rather than focusing on the darker parts of the subject.” 

The event allowed for students to gain a lot of information—  what number to call if they need to talk to someone, which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number-  1-800-273-8255, different ways to handle stress and additional resources for help. It also allowed for students to interact with each other while talking about a negative subject and raising awareness about it. 

“I think the event was such a good idea. Suicide is a really difficult thing to talk about and I think this helped open up a conversation that may not have happened otherwise,” said sophomore Rebecca Morales.

     As Peer Counseling continues to expand their program, they will host more events similar to the Suicide Prevention Week Event in order to raise more awareness about different topics.  Peer Counseling will continue to make their impact on the West Broward community through their upcoming plans and programs. 

“You never really know what someone is going through and to be able to spread awareness to our peers was such a great thing. That event could have been the pick me up that someone needed.” said Noel.