Students learn to 'Seize the Awkward' to raise awareness of suicide prevention

Winners of the Fort Payne High School “Seize The Awkward” Poster Contest are, from left: 1st place – Caroline Scott, 9th grade; 2nd place – Ella Fowler, 10th grade; 3rd place – Tyler Key, 9th grade; 4th – place Maggie Groat, 11th grade; and 5th place – Katelyn Sandoval.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst young adults, and for every youth suicide, it is estimated that a hundred or more others attempt to take their own lives.

Friends of teens and young adults are often the first ones to recognize the early signs of mental health problems. It isn’t always easy to reach out to a friend who is struggling with mental health, but often just starting a conversation can really help.

Opening the lines of communication about mental health problems is the purpose behind students and staff at Fort Payne High School partnering with the SAM Foundation, which works for suicide prevention in DeKalb County, as well as Limestone, Madison, Jackson, Lawrence, Morgan, and Marshall counties in Alabama and Fulton County in Georgia. The group seeks to change the way communities view mental health and serve as a resource to those who have been affected by suicide.

The students are using videos from the “Seize The Awkward” campaign, which teaches teens how to talk to their friends who appear to be struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

As part of lessons from the campaign, Fort Payne High students participated in a poster contest. Faculty and staff voted on the winners, and the SAM Foundation provided prize money. The winners were: 1st place – Caroline Scott, 9th grade; 2nd place Ella Fowler, 10th grade; 3rd place Tyler Key, 9th grade; 4th place Maggie Groat, 11th grade; and 5th place Katelyn Sandoval.

“Seize The Awkward” encourages young adults to create a safe space for their friends and use awkward silences as a cue to broach the topic of mental health with a friend who seems down or struggling.

In some cases, teens may feel unsure about reaching out when they intuitively sense that something is “off” with their friends. They worry about damaging the friendship, hurting their friends’ feelings, misinterpreting their friends’ behaviors, saying the wrong thing or making the situation worse.

Suggested strategies include showing a teen that someone cares and avoiding gossiping about them, as well as reaching out for help from a parent, teacher, counselor or someone trusted. It offers conversation starters, tips on how to sustain a conversation and information about warning signs.

Some common signs that a teen may be experiencing mental health issues include not acting like they normally do, a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, talking about feelings of hopelessness, being more reckless, or isolating from family and friends. Talking to your friend about mental health can be scary - but reaching out when you’re feeling down or when you see a friend struggling can make a huge difference.

Local students who are feeling suicidal can also discuss their issues with Kayla Magbie, the Fort Payne City Schools social worker, or with counselors from the Children’s Advocacy Center or Cherokee/Etowah/DeKalb Mental Health. Appointments with these counselors are free and private.

Support for those with mental health issues is available by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or texting SEIZE to 741741. To view the “Seize The Silence” videos, visit www.seizetheawkward.org. To learn more about SAM Foundation, visit samfound.org.

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