Saying No to Suicide

As suicide rates continue to rise among young people, students in high schools and colleges across the nation are finding that small, all-volunteer clubs can often make a big difference. They are opening chapters of the Yellow Ribbon Club, a national, nonprofit suicide prevention organization, to raise awareness about depression and suicide among their peers and get help to those who need it.

The Yellow Ribbon Club was founded in 1994. Its creators, Dale and Dar Emme, lost their son, Mike Emme, to suicide. The organization now has over 100 chapters in the United States, and it also has chapters in Australia, Canada and Scotland.

The Club grew as a response to the alarming suicide statistics, especially among young people. Each year, around 5,000 people ages 15-24 commit suicide, and it is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15-24, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the Massachusetts Alliance of Samaritan Suicide Prevention Services.

Candace Lohr, a junior at Avon Grove High School in Pennsylvania and vice president of her school's Yellow Ribbon Club chapter, has friends that were depressed and wanted to do something to raise awareness about the issue, as well as help her friends. "Depression is fairly common," she said. "Sometimes people really don't see it is a problem until it's too late."

Lohr became involved with her school's group -- which has been around for two years -- when she started chatting with people in the club and saw a commercial for it.

Her school's group raises awareness through education. Throughout the school year, members visit different classrooms and hand out information to students about depression and ways to help, hoping that students will realize that it is a serious problem. "I think it's more of a problem than people suspect it is people don't talk about it that much," said Danielle Wolf, president of the school's chapter. Like Lohr, Wolf joined the organization because she had friends that were depressed.

Suicide rates have risen dramatically over the years among young people. The suicide rate among people ages 15-24 was 4.5 deaths per 100,000 residents in the '50s. By 2002, the number rose to 9.9 per 100,000 residents, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of all college students admit feeling depressed at some point in time, and 14.9 percent meet the criteria for clinical depression, according to a 2004 survey by the American College Health Association.

Experts have listed various causes for depression, including stress, relationship problems, genetics and a chemical imbalance of the brain's neurotransmitters. Some blame increasing isolation for depression. According to a recent study published in the Washington Post, a quarter of Americans say they have no one to talk to and confide in.

Some of the most common symptoms of depression include a sudden loss of interest in favorite activities, restlessness, decreased energy, a loss or gain of weight, irregular sleeping hours, and feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.

The members of the Yellow Ribbon Club at Avon Grove High School held more events to stop suicide and depression that they found effective. One of the most popular was a recent movie screening of "The Dead Poet's Society," a film where one of the characters, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), kills himself because of personal struggles with his father.

Lohr hopes that the different events touched community members and parents and sparked a discussion about the issue. "Sometimes parents are in denial about their child having any type of mental issue," she said. "We're trying to help people realize that it's not a bad thing to be depressed, and it can be fixed."

With only a year until graduation, Lohr and Wolf want to leave the club with enough members to carry on their work. "I want the club to continue, gain more strength and reach the goal of really making people understand about depression and suicide," Lohr said.

This summer, Wolf and Lohr plan to visit neighboring schools and promote the Yellow Ribbon Club. "We originally just wanted to send some informational packets to different schools and guidance offices we thought if we actually went to the school, it might make a bigger impact," said Wolf.

Lohr emphasized that students helping students is one of the best defenses against depression and suicide. "If students can't reach out to their peers, it's difficult to save lives and make the statistics go down," she said. "If more people know about it, more people would be willing to accept it, get help and move on."

When someone is depressed, Wolf believes that a friend has a responsibility to help. "If you're unaware of a hotline in your area you can always call the police, she said. "Take everything seriously."

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