EUREKA, Mo. – Eureka High School is hosting its first Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness Week to help others feel more comfortable talking about a difficult subject. Students have been learning and engaging in activities all week, and on Wednesday night, they invited parents in the community to join the discussion.
The event's keynote speaker, Elizabeth Makulec, says this is an important discussion to be having because the number of teens dying by suicide is increasing. Makulec is the executive director of Kids Under Twenty One, an organization that works with middle and high school students around the St. Louis Metro to address behavioral and emotional health issues.
Makulec said many people avoid talking about their mental health for fear they will be judged, teased and bullied.
According to Erica Mock, a sophomore at Eureka High School and president of the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), the group that organized the week's events, many students are feeling pressure to excel.
"Have the best clothes in the school, it's that you have to have the best grades or you're not getting into college, you have to work your butt off or you're not going anywhere," said Mock. "That's what we all think. You have to be good at sports. You have to be popular."
The students struggling most may not be the ones people would suspect.
Lela Thompson said her daughter, Shayley Akers, was Homecoming Queen, a cheerleader, and "Miss Popular" while attending the Kingston K-14 School District. Akers died by suicide on August 31, 2016 at the age of 19.
"It was unimaginable hell," said Thompson.
Akers left a 15-page note but never explained why she chose to end her life. However, she was clear about how she wanted her family to move forward.
"Her last request was that we have 'real talk' about depression and suicide," said Thompson.
Thompson founded Shayley's Angels, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about suicide and depression. The group has hosted several awareness events and fundraisers throughout the community including free counseling and support groups on the last Sunday of each month at Potosi First Assembly of God.
On the anniversary of Akers' death, Shayley's Angels perform random acts of kindness in her honor.
While there are suggested signs to look out for, Makulec advises people to be alert to any drastic changes in their loved one's behavior.
"There's a laundry list of specific things to be aware of, and sometimes that creates barriers because we're only looking for certain things," said Makulec. "So I like to tell people to be a little more broad. 'What have you seen? What have you heard? What have you learned about? What does your gut tell you is not right?'"
National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
St. Louis County Youth Connection Helpline: (314) 628-2929, (877) 928-2929
Or text ‘4HLP’ to 31658
Kids Under Twenty One:
KUTO Crisis Hotline: 644-KUTO (5886)
Toll free: 1-888-644-5886
(Available 7 days a week)
Safer Homes Collaborative:
Addiction is Real:
National Alliance on Mental Illness: