POINT PLEASANT — Christmas isn’t always a happy time.
Recently, some students at Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School decided to raise awareness of this and the fact that depression is not a choice, among some other very serious issues facing young people. These students participated in #thelinesproject.
An Academic Life Strategies class of students in grades 9-12, meets daily to discuss issues facing students today and learn ways of overcoming them to be academically successful in life. Classmate Sara Mattox saw the idea for #thelinesproject from a high school in Virginia on social media and presented it to the class. Gaining national attention, the project focuses on depression, abuse, suicide, self-harming, insecurity, and bullying – all issues facing youth ages 15 to 24 in ever increasing numbers.
The idea is that each year between Dec. 15-20, participants use Sharpies in red, yellow, orange, blue, black and purple to draw a line designated for each challenge they have faced on their left wrist or to show support for someone they know on their right wrist.
“It’s a no-questions-asked kind of thing,” the students explained. “A silent show of support for yourself and others.”
PPJ/SHS assistant principals Kerri Lewis and Jackie Schimmel were crucial in getting the project school-wide. Every day they have seen students struggling more and more and at younger ages. The students made posters to publicize the event, advertised it on social media, and staff was provided with information to discuss with their homeroom students on each topic. Participation was voluntary but encouraged.
As discussed in the ALS group, Christmas is an especially hard time of year for those struggling with things such as depression and suicide, even for adults. Students noted that holidays can be lonely times and some individuals have no close family or friends and simply don’t have the confidence to reach out to someone. One student mentioned that the shorter days increase cases of depression in many people as darkness enhances the feeling of being alone and worthless.
Depression, unfortunately, is often a precursor to suicide. Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for the nation’s pre and young adults. For every young person mourned, 25 others have secretly attempted suicide. These are startling statistics, even for a group of kids in which some have admitted considering the option themselves.
Since its inception, the ALS class has become a tightly knit group of students, sharing private experiences and being there to support one another.
Some students in the class described situations in their own lives that have been challenging. For example, one student describes her life as “a rough situation.” She deals with stress at home and school from “judgmental” people.
Another student shared anonymously that she would be dead right now had her best friend not pulled her down from the ceiling when she tried to hang herself. She suffers from bi-polar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety. With determination and support, she has learned the triggers that affect her and has turned her life around. She will graduate in the spring and pursue a career as a pediatrician.
When asked about advice students would give to others, they were forthcoming.
“Everybody goes through rough times no matter how old or how smart. What you have to do is let it be. You have to be yourself.”
Another student joined in saying, “Instead of worrying about what can go wrong, get excited about what can go right.” A third young man added, “There is always someone out there that cares for you no matter how low life gets. Never give up!”
The teacher for the class gives the entire credit for its success to the students, saying: “We learn from each other. They really set the path of the class and I try to facilitate the resources needed.”
When asked about what has been the most memorable moment since the group’s inception, the teacher responded, “A new student was added to the class after several weeks. The tight-knit group was initially a little hesitant, but when the student asked his classmates what happened in the class, they responded, ‘We learn strategies for being successful in classes, we talk about issues we struggle with, and when we leave we feel a lot better about ourselves,’ and to her that’s what it’s all about.
No one in the group was identified in this story to protect their identity but to also highlight the fact that everyone can share the same, similar struggles and stories, regardless of someone’s age or last name.
Information for this article provided by the Academic Life Strategies class at PPJ/SHS.