Amy Davidhizar: Making Sense of a Tragedy

(Photo by Amy Davidhizar)

Editor’s Note: This column makes reference to suicide and other issues related to mental health. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Text or call 988 to chat with someone now or click this link for other options.

Recently, our community, our friends and family have been rocked by the sudden, tragic loss of a beautiful 16-year-old soul. 

Not surprisingly, social media has been abuzz with speculation, opinions on the right and wrong ways to handle these situations and who’s to blame, and a plethora of thoughts and prayers. 

I’ve been absent from the pages of Watershed Voice for a long while. My life has gone through enormous change and over a year ago I began working in community mental health. I’m doing a job I truly love, but mostly I’m in constant awe of the therapists, peer supports, and case managers working day in and day out with members of our community who are struggling with substance use or mental health issues, or who are living with intellectual or developmental disabilities. 

In my position, I also see the struggles and failures of the system, particularly when it comes to mental health services available to young people. In-patient or short-term crisis residential services for adolescents are often not local to our area, and even if you’re willing to go outside the region, they are likely to be full or have wait lists. Local hospitals are either unable or ill-equipped to handle emergency mental health crises. Our own Three Rivers PAWS clinic offers our youth a lifeline that many communities may not have access to and are seeing substantial need, but are limited in their ability to assist in the most serious cases. 

The American Psychological Association reports that one in five youths have seriously considered taking their own lives. One in five. For every classroom of 20 kids, that’s four of them. That’s at least two of my nieces and nephews. The article states “teens [are] reporting high levels of hopelessness, sadness, loneliness, and suicidal ideation.” There are no words for how broken hearted this makes me. 

People have a lot of strong opinions on why these numbers exist. They blame the kids, the parents, society, the government… it goes on and on. The best of us are standing up and trying to do something, whether that’s helping a single child, working to create community spaces, or diving into the legislative and medical realms in search of broader solutions. We need each and every one of these. 

I had a conversation this morning with the owner of Savage Bean coffee in downtown Cassopolis. If you follow Savage Bean on social media, you’ll regularly see posts about Cass high schoolers dropping in for hot (or iced) drinks after school. The café has somewhat accidentally turned into a community space, where teens can come in, hang out, and sometimes talk about the issues in their lives. Drinks are paid for via donations from local organizations. The Huss Project in Three Rivers has also done a fantastic job of creating a community space. We need more of this. 

Watershed Voice has consistently included articles on mental health, even winning national awards for their coverage of local issues. While the statement made by Three Rivers Schools in the wake of this heart-breaking situation was truth-be-told very hard to read, and was met by some with hostility, it forced the community to acknowledge the situation for what it was: death by suicide. Altogether, these make it difficult to put our heads in the sand and move on. As they should. We need to have these hard conversations.

Our kids need us. And they don’t need us to tell them what their problems are, they need us to listen, respectfully, honestly, earnestly. Then they need us to work with them, at all levels, on building community and hope for the future. This isn’t just an issue for parents and caregivers, this is a systemic problem. 

I’m certainly not the kind of person who always sees sunshine on a cloudy day. I think toxic positivity is incredibly dangerous. But I do believe that the constant noise of doom and gloom, and rage and fear, coming from our TVs, phones, and mouths has an impact. When you couple that with the extremely curated, fictional, beautiful lives we create for ourselves on social media, you end up with a sort of dichotomy that I think even adults struggle with. Your life looks and feels bleak, but everyone else is apparently doing great!

All in all, I’m begging you to stop sitting on the sidelines. Even if you stop and think about how your daily words and actions impact your kids, that’s a start. Have open conversations and really listen to what is being said. And if you have the ability to do so, please become involved in community, town, state, or national projects or organizations. Move from stillness to action. Do it for your kids, for all those who haven’t seen another option, for the sweet, red-headed girl who loved animals and had the best smile. Fly high, Emma. 

Amy Davidhizar is a freelance copyeditor, wannabe homesteader, and recovering archaeologist living in Cass County. She loves her family, her menagerie of animals, and her garden, although depending on the day, the order of those may vary. 

Any views or opinions expressed in “Critters, Culture, & Compost” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.