Suicide Claims Victims

Recent Woodson suicide restarts talk of mental health awareness


Binqi Chen, Co Editor-in-Chief

Over the last two weeks, students and faculty at W.T. Woodson High School have been mourning the death of a valuable member to their community. The student, a junior at Woodson, took his own life after struggling with overwhelming stress and with burdens that we may never know.

The student was active in all aspects of school, involved in numerous clubs and extracurriculars such as: ultimate frisbee, Air Force Junior ROTC, Advanced Men’s Choir and Young Republicans.

This recent death struck not only the Woodson community by surprise, but the entire school district as well. However, this scene is all too disturbingly familiar for Woodson.

Including the most recent incident, Woodson has seen six other suicides from 2011 to 2014. These were all students who were heavily involved in extracurricular activities and school life as athletes, club participants and volunteers in the community.

Along with the pain and grief, students at the Woodson have begun asking a singular question: Is this systemic of a larger problem at hand?

First, it is important to recognize that this is not just a “Woodson problem,” but an issue that affects and is recognized by the entirety of Fairfax County Public Schools along with the country as a whole. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) suicide remains the second leading cause of deaths among teens.

In 2013, following three suicides within the same school year, the CDC conducted an investigation into the heightened rate of student suicide in Fairfax County. The CDC found that there have been 13 suicides among girls between 2003 and 2013.

“If a tragedy like that occurs, the administration would usually reach out to a crisis team,” school psychologist Anne Brosnan said.

These crisis teams are usually composed of other psychologists and social workers that work with the school team to determine what type of support they need. The team talks to friends, students and even teachers to help them recompose.

In response to the concerning number of student suicides, FCPS has tried to increase awareness for mental health. In recent years, a large fraction of FCPS’ middle and high schools have decided to implement a “Stress Less, Laugh More” week, where students learn more about how to reach out for help or to lend a hand to another person who needs it. This educational week has now extended out to elementary schools as well.

“Every teacher in the building has been trained on what they should do if a student comes to them talking about depression or wanting to hurt themselves,” Brosnan said. “Counselors are also trained to know what to do if any kid comes to them and needs help.”

According to Brosnan, to ensure that no student will ever come to the stage where they feel that they need to self harm, FCPS conducts a wellness screening every year to watch for students who may need additional support for their mental health. There is a video about suicide and it also encourages students to reach out if they feel like their friends are in a critical situation. FCPS has also added hotlines and websites where students can go if they need immediate support.

Based on the 2015 FCPS Youth Survey given to 8th, 10th and 12th graders, there has been a six percent decrease in reporting of depressive symptoms. However, the same report concluded that 36 percent of students reported high stress, 14 percent of students considered suicide and six percent of students considered attempting suicide.

FCPS has strongly promoted the concept of a “Resiliency Wheel,” a model for fostering and building resiliency in the youth. The wheel is divided into six portions: Increase pro-social bonding, set clear, consistent boundaries, teach life skills, providing care and support, set and communicate high expectations and provide opportunities for meaningful participation. These external protective factors can be provided by schools, families and communities that decrease the risks factors for their children.

Parents have also displayed concern over mental health. This has led to many changes in grading policies that we see today.

On the same day of the passing of the Woodson junior, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) held an information session for parents on detecting the signs of depression and potential suicide. The organization provides emergency mental health resources both online and in walk-in screenings and assessments.

Even though the school system has brought more attention to the subject of mental health, the cloud of stigma surrounding the topic persists. For most students, talking about something so deep and personal can feel uncomfortable. Friends do not want to come off as intrusive or overbearing on another’s privacy.

Although respect for a friend’s space is important, being able to detect alarming signs and reaching out to them is also extremely crucial. You should never wait to give support to someone that you think is in an unhealthy state of mind. No longer can we shy away from talking about mental health when so many of our peers of our own age are experiencing something so painful and difficult.

However, it is important that attention on the subject matter should be treated with care and consideration. Mental health should never be romanticized or glamorized. FCPS has also displayed its worries over this very topic. The school board sent out letters to parents expressing their concern on the now popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

The series, based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, has shown the negative impacts that silence and bullying can have on a teen. However, the detailed plan of retribution that Hannah Baker, the protagonist, after her death is also shown. The tapes and the reactions of those mentioned on the records have caused the show to come under fire for the idealization of suicide.

FCPS, along with numerous other school districts across the nation are afraid that the scenarios highlighted in the show may cause teens who are already under stress and instability, to follow in Hannah Baker’s footsteps.

In a letter addressing families, the district warned parents about the repercussions the show might bring and that they should be diligent in making the choice on whether their children should watch the show or stay away. The choice ultimately falls on each guardian, but they should nonetheless be aware and alert of the situation.

“The concern with the show is that it might encourage already vulnerable kids to kill themselves, that is the main concern,” Brosnan said. “I am worried that this may make kids think that suicide is the answer.”

Suicide is never an easy subject to talk about (and it should never be easy or casual) due to the many sensitive factors involved. But it is time that we, as active members of our community, start taking care of each other by making sure that our loved ones and ourselves are in a safe and healthy environment, both mentally and physically.

Here at Annandale, we extend our deepest condolences to the Woodson community. Woodson has long been one of our closest neighbors and friends, and we hope that every person affected by this heartbreaking situation can find strength to recover. We hope that more awareness can be brought to mental health so that this never happens again, not at Woodson, not anywhere.