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Loss of friends, family to suicide moves teens to speak out on issue

Jul 21, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

A group of local teenagers will appear in a televised public service announcement this summer promoting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The students all had compelling reasons for getting involved in the effort. Some have friends or relatives who have committed suicide, while others said they know people who think about hurting themselves.

Matthew Underwood, 14, said he was "sick and tired" of people taking their own lives in his community.

"It just isn't right," he said. "I decided to actually get involved, so I volunteered to do the commercial. Hopefully it will keep more and more people away from the thought of suicide."

The issue is an important one throughout the world, but Kimberly Immenschuh, 18, said it does seem to be prevalent in Fremont County.

"I want to help it not be as big of a (problem) as it is," she said. "I lost one of my really close friends to suicide just recently, and it was really hard. And I just really don't want anybody to have to go through that again, because I saw all the hurt that all his friends (went through), and his mom and his grandparents. ... It's really rough on people, and it just sucks."

Che' Stiffarm, 16, agreed that the act of suicide affects more than the victim. He experienced the death of his older brother due to suicide a couple of years ago.

"It was really hard on me," Stiffarm said. "We used to hang all the time. ... He was one of those people you wouldn't think, wouldn't expect (to commit suicide)."

Stiffarm said his brother had a lot of potential, especially on the basketball court.

"He led his high school basketball team to three state championships," Stiffarm said. "So I wanted to get involved because of him. It was heartbreaking."

The burden can be difficult to bear before a tragedy occurs as well. Charmayne Brown, 14, said a lot of his friends confide in him about their negative feelings.

"It's kind of hard to actually know that they don't want to be here anymore," he said. "I just want to save lives."

One of the teens in the public service announcement has had suicidal thoughts in the past. She wants people to know that resources are available for anyone thinking about harming themselves.

"I really hope (the commercial) will catch a lot of peoples' attention -- especially those considering suicide or who have attempted," said Jessica Black, 18. "(You) aren't alone. ... There are people who have been through the experience that (are) willing to listen and help you."

The public service announcement will be aired during a community viewing event 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Central Wyoming College Little Theater. The youth involved in the production will be introduced, and refreshments will be served.

Later, the PSA will run on local networks FOX TV, KFNB-CH 20, KGWC14, KWYF-Casper K2ABC, and KCW13 in all counties with local area access in Wyoming.

This is the second year a public service announcement involving youth has been sponsored by the Eastern Shoshone Suicide Prevention Program.

Winners

The ESSPP has announced winners of past events.

Immenschuh, who recently graduated from Riverton High School and is attending CWC this fall, won this year's bullying poster contest along with Victoria Rivera from Fort Washakie High School. Each received a $25 Visa card and prizes valued at $100.

Denis Adams won an iPad and accessories valued at $650 for visiting the ESSPP table during the annual Eastern Shoshone Health Fair this spring. Organizers said Adams took time to learn about suicide warning signs and received information on local resources offering help for someone thinking about suicide.

The ESSPP also thanked Fort Washakie principal Shad Hamilton, school counselor Scott Polson, health instructor Cory Higgs, Fred Groenke and superintendent Terry Ebert for efforts over the past three years to educate students and staff about issues related to suicide.

At Wyoming Indian Schools, the ESSPP thanked former superintendent Michelle Hoffman and principals Owen St. Clair and Phil Gerhardt. Other advocates locally include Lander Valley High School counselor Virginia Purdum, Riverton High School principal John Griffith, St. Stephen's High School principal Susan Kinneman and St. Stephen's health instructor Tiffany Link.

The ESSPP has been funded for a sixth year through the Indian Health Services Methamphetamine Suicide Prevention Initiative. The program promotes suicide prevention awareness through various community events including remembrance walks, school symposiums, community suicide prevention trainings, cultural events and media campaigns.

For more information, call 332-4758.

Seeking help

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at (800) 273-TALK. It offers 24-hour access to people who are knowledgeable about issues and services related to suicide.

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