Three Howard County high school students died by suicide last year. For Howard County, that number is about average for the past three years, according to Cathy Smith, who intends to bring that number to zero.
Cathy Smith is the Youth Coordinator of the Grassroots Crisis Center and Homeless Shelter, which offers counseling and runs programs aimed to help those in distress. This year, Wilde Lake’s Letterman raised $400 entirely from Wilde Lake’s spare change to support that campaign.
Grassroots is a crisis center that never closes. It offers around-the-clock counseling to those in any kind of distress situation, but it has recently directed most of its focus towards mental health and suicide, especially in teenagers.
Wilde Lake’s Lettermen ran a fundraiser as part of the “Change Matters” program. The collections took place through teachers, during lunch, and at football games, which raised awareness as well as money.
“It’s a pretty labor-intensive initiative to run the program because it’s student led. It was the Lettermen that actually had to learn about the program, figure out how they were going to implement it, and then actually implement it,” said Smith.
The program taught Lettermen about the center’s work, and raised awareness of the problems that the center combats.
“There needs to be more awareness. Suicide is ignored compared to other things,” said junior Letterman Sara Shemali.
Though most people are aware that suicide is a problem in today’s society, especially in the teen population, they are often too detached from the issue to help someone in need, said Smith.
“Grassroots gets about 26,000 anonymous phone calls from those in need of help each year,” said Smith.
“People think ‘this won’t happen to people I know,’ but it can,” said Shemali.
And it does.
Smith says mental health and suicide is an extremely relevant topic for teenagers.
“High school is mentally one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to face. You’re trying to balance schoolwork, friends, a social life, and job responsibilities. It’s also when people find out who they really are, which is hard for many to do,” said senior Letterman Julianna Kaiser.
Grassroots recognizes these struggles, as they were the inspiration for the Change Matters and similar programs, which take slightly different approaches to helping those in distress.
“Grassroots is sort of like the one-stop shop for help. If Grassroots can’t help you, they can certainly get you connected to the resources or organizations that can,” said Smith
Grassroots will use the money it raised at the school to remain dedicated to its mission of improving life quality and continue to teach teenagers about mental health and warning signs of suicide.
“The resource is out there,” said Shemali, “and you don’t only have to call if you are considering suicide. You can make an anonymous call for anyone who needs help.
Grassroots Crisis Center and Homeless Shelter
6700 Freetown Road, Columbia, MD 21044
Hotline Number: 410-531-6677