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CHS assembly opens door on suicide prevention

On Monday, Devin Bradley did something incredibly brave. She stood before her peers and recounted the toughest experience of her life.

A little more than a year ago, her father Matthew Bradley took his own life. It was a shattering experience, and there are still some really tough days.

Devin shared her story during a Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention assembly at the high school, and one held earlier at El Roble, in the hopes it would be cathartic.

In a talk that blended gravity with humor, she talked about her dad, a vibrant guy who could often be seen skateboarding shirtless through the Claremont Village with a lizard on his shoulder. He wasn’t afraid to be a little outlandish, and he invited everyone around him to join in the fun.

But one rough season, he got depressed. He couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and he didn’t ask for help. Devin entreated anyone who is feeling that way to reach out.

“You may think no one likes you but, honestly, someone out there loves you and misses you, even if it’s the most random person,” she told the kids packed into the Wolfpack Gym.

Devin approached a girl she didn’t know who was sitting on the floor in front of the bleachers.

“What’s your name? Stella? I love you,” she said. “Please talk to someone and don’t commit suicide.”

Each student at the assembly was presented with a wallet-sized Ask4Help card. One side urges the cardholder to talk to someone—a counselor, clergy, doctor, parent or friend—if they are feeling suicidal. The other side shares information on how to help when someone has uttered seven life-saving words: “I need to use my yellow ribbon.”

Funding to print the cards was provided by the Claremont Police Officers Association and the Claremont Police Management Association. Affixed to each card was a yellow ribbon attached to a safety pin. Throughout the day, students and staff could be seen wearing the ribbon as a symbol of suicide awareness.

Kirby Palmer is a licensed clinical social worker who has a private practice in town and serves as a consultant to the Claremont Police Department. He helps organize Yellow Ribbon presentations for CUSD’s secondary students every other year.

Mr. Palmer feels impassioned about spreading the word that being depressed doesn’t mean you are stupid or bad and that in virtually every case, things can and will get better. Help can include counseling and medication, he said.

“Years ago, suicide was kind of the unspoken disease or problem. We want to bring it out of the closet and say that it’s okay to talk about it—it’s nothing shameful,” he said.  “We want to kind of depathologize it. We want to make it easier for people to ask for help and easier for people to give help.”

The students in attendence said that they appreciated the assembly and expressed admiration for Devin being willing to speak.

“It was really touching,” CHS junior Haley Scott said. “It showed me suicide is a real thing, and it does affect high school students, too.”

Depression and anxiety is rising among high school students, according to a recent USA Today article. Some 27 percent of students say they feel “extreme stress” during the school year. Add in potential problems at home and shifting body chemistry and it’s little wonder that some kids feel overwhelmed.

After the assembly, one senior girl, who asked her name be withheld from this story, said she had considered suicide at one point.

“It was like a combination of teenage hormones and people talking bad about me,” she said.

But she is friends with Devin and knew her father. She says seeing her friend and the entire Bradley family grieve has given her perspective.

“With suicide, you think it ends everything, but the pain is just starting for other people,” she said.

Devin’s mom Johanna said she is glad her daughter is getting through the tragedy through a combination of resilience and a lot of family talk therapy sessions.

“I’m just really proud of her. I think it’s good to talk about it openly and not have such a taboo,” she said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com