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Greg Peters column: Suicide and sea lions

Greg Peters

Kevin Hines was 19 years old in 2000 when he tried to commit suicide. Hines took the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, stepped off, and just like that, ran to the railing and jumped over. Hines said the second his hands left the railing he knew he made a mistake. In three more seconds, Hines traveled 240 feet and hit the water at 75 mph, crushing his vertebrae and ankle.

Over 1,700 people have attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge; 25 have survived.

With his legs immobile and waterlogged boots weighing him down, Hines was going to drown if not for a guardian angel.

Hines' guardian angel was a sea lion constantly nudging him to the surface until the Coast Guard arrived.

A sea lion and the Coast Guard saved his life. Kevin Hines is returning the favor and trying to save lives in a suicide prevention documentary titled: "Suicide: The Ripple Effect."

Hines' documentary cites research saying a single suicide affects 115 people.

Jenna Janicki introduced "The Ripple Effect" video to River Falls High School students this past year.

Jenna and her husband, Brad, have been affected by suicide. The word "affected" is the understatement of a lifetime. Their daughter, Nola, committed suicide last spring at Meyer Middle School. Nola was in sixth grade. She was 11 years old.

"There are people that are forever changed because of it (Nola's suicide)," said Jenna, "I think we do need to talk about it and share. People tend to want to go back to the way things used to be, but we can't sweep it under the rug. We have to ask, 'what are we going to do differently?'"

Albert Einstein is credited with saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. If we keep sweeping depression and mental health issues under the rug in our town, we will continue to receive the exact same results. The recent results of teen suicides have not been good.

A few months after Nola's suicide, River Falls High School junior, Bodey Seidl, also committed suicide.

From every single statistic available, teen suicide numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. What has happened in River Falls this past year is not an anomaly and we have to wake up. Fixing the 800,000 annual worldwide suicides is a near impossible task, but as a community, we can have a positive impact on our kids in River Falls.

According to Dr. Melissa Mercado in the "Journal of the American Medical Association," self-inflicted injury rates for females ages 10 to 14 years old have increased by almost 19 percent each year from 2009 to 2015. Female suicides in the U.S. have increased 45 percent over the past 15 years. Suicide is now the number one killer of teenage girls worldwide, according to a World Health Organization report.

Male suicide rates are still three times more compared to females but the increase is much less over the same time period (16 percent).

Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego St. University, wrote an article for "The Atlantic" focusing on the correlation between rising smartphone use and increased depression and suicide. In a study conducted on 500,000 teens, those with 5 hours of smartphone use per day were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those with one hour of use per day.

The study also cites sleep deprivation, fear and anxiety of being left out, and cyberbullying as potential factors. The keyboard courage epidemic has seemingly found its way to our middle-schoolers.

"You can't look away," said Jenna Janicki.

"There's still a million questions unanswered," said Brad Janicki. "It's really tough to swallow not

knowing these things."

River Falls High School senior, Sofia Naranjo, is the school record-holder in the 100 meter dash. The girl can absolutely fly. Sofia will be going to college on a track scholarship next year. She is extremely well-liked and a class leader. When another parent or grandparent makes some crack about "those kids today" and rolls their eyes to me, I dispute their statement with a "well, you don't know Sofia Naranjo then."

I've known Sofia since she was in elementary school, but what I didn't know was when Sofia was in seventh grade she had a ton of anxiety. So much so she couldn't sleep. She couldn't breathe at times and she didn't want to tell anybody.

"It was the scariest feeling on the planet," said Sofia, "I can't imagine what it must be like for someone to feel that way every day."

Sofia did finally tell her mom and she is fine today.

Sofia, however, did not forget and her S.O.S. group (Students Offering Support) and Meyer Middle School Guidance Counselor Gary Campbell helped organize a "Make It OK" community event last week to discuss mental health by reducing the stigma around it and letting people know how to receive help.

"Bodey (Seidl) was in my focus group," said Sofia, "I don't want it to be swept under the rug."

For Brad and Jenna Janicki, any discussion and increased education for our students is a step in the right direction.

"For the people that didn't know what to say and think it's too late; it's never too late," said Jenna.

We need more sea lions like Sofia Naranjo and Gary Campbell in our community and our schools. The waterlogged boots are weighing our kids down.