By Campbell Meszaros, Contributor
Disclaimer: This article has been taken, with permission, in-part, from content already posted by Gabriel’s Light.
Every fall, I think of him. Come October, we see the world become a little more orange: the leaves on the trees, the pumpkins. Gabriel loved orange- it was his “happy” color. He was a happy kid for the most part, or at least appeared to be. In November of 7th grade, I was at our school football championship game when we heard the news: Gabriel had died by suicide. No one knew how to respond, and we assumed it was an accident; we were 12 years old, after all. After his parents investigated what had happened, they realized he had shown many warning signs: he had talked to multiple classmates about suicide, and had even googled suicide and bullying multiple times on his school-issued device in the two weeks leading up to his passing.
Picking up on signs of struggle is not easy. There is no easy test that tells if someone has a mental illness. But some of the most obvious symptoms of depression in youth may include: thinking, talking, or writing a lot about death; making jokes or indirect statements about death, such as “My family would be better off without me”; showing signs of being hopeless or feeling worthless, such as saying “what’s the point of living?”; and giving away things that are important to them, or visiting people to say goodbye. Other symptoms are a little bit harder to notice, or could be related to other mental health issues. Examples would include a drop in school performance (with grades and standardized test scores significantly dropping); significant weight loss or gain; dramatic mood changes; excessive worry or anxiety; neglecting appearance or hygiene; withdrawal from friends and family; dropping out of school, athletic, or social activities; and major changes in eating or sleeping habits including fighting, frequent disobedience, or aggression.
In 2019, Gabriel’s parents started Gabriel’s Light (https://www.gabrielslight.org), an organization that aims to prevent youth suicide through education, cyber safety, and kindness campaigns. They wanted to make a positive change out of Gabriel’s story, and as high schoolers, us Payton students can collectively make change within our school community. The best way to do this is to be present for one another in times of need, especially when a student is exhibiting warning signs of mental health issues. The most important thing to do is to tell a trusted adult so that the student can get help, as it will not help the situation to keep it to yourself (even if the student doesn’t want you to tell anyone). If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone about it, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), or text “HOME” to 741741 at any time, and they can help you figure out your next steps.
We can also aid suicide prevention everyday through small acts of kindness. As little as they might seem, even a compliment goes a long way. If someone helps you in school, thank them and tell them they did a great job. If someone is sitting alone at lunch, invite them to sit with you. Simple, everyday gestures can be more impactful than you might ever realize. Take some time today to think about ways you can implement kindness into your lifestyle, especially since you never know what someone else is going through.