Logan Bailey Crews, an eleventh grade student of Janet DePasquale at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, Missouri, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors,” by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz.
Tracy is part of the Japanese American community on Bainbridge Island, Washington—the first community in the nation to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps during World War II. In this story, she reflects on the meaning of the Japanese saying, nidoto nai yoni: “Let it not happen again,” and wonders what communities might do differently today to protect the civil liberties of our vulnerable neighbors.
Writing Prompt: Think about someone in your school or community who is vulnerable and may need protection or support. This person may be a neighbor or a classmate—it may even be you. Are you willing and brave enough to stand up against injustice? Describe what you would do, and how your actions might make a difference.
Bringing a Voice Back to Life
“I’m literally going to kill myself.”
With no context, a proposed death threat would raise red flags. To naive teenagers, such a threat is a typical response after a test, in-class essay, or even after a teacher hands out homework.
I’ve had days throughout my high school career where each day builds another story onto my skyscraper of self-loathing. I’ve had days where each class claws at my conscience, pointing out my flaws and giving me reasons why I shouldn’t exist. I’ve had days where each lunch period laughs at my inability to smile over the pain, and taunts me to jump off the building constructed in my head.
Being suicidal at school is feeling so vulnerable that every day is a push further to the edge of the skyscraper. Last winter, a silence took over my brain so deafening that even a pen clicking from across the room sounded like an alarm ringing, telling me to evacuate now—or else!
Being suicidal at school is giving up class periods to collapse on the bathroom floor, hoping that no one finds me. At the same time, I also hoped someone would save me in case I let myself dangle over the edge of the skyscraper. Being suicidal at school is watching others claim they are suicidal from only stressing over homework or fuming about a test grade. The overdramatic teenage culture that worships the aesthetic of mental illness but avoids its consequences creates an environment where students who do feel suicidal don’t feel safe or accepted.
With recovery from suicidal behavior under my belt, I go to school every day ready to stand up for people who are currently struggling. Sometimes all it takes to start breaking down the stigma against suicide is to pay attention to kids who act the way I did. Sometimes all it takes is to give them a compliment on the way out of the classroom. I’ve had days where knowing my hair, if nothing else, looks nice pulls me out of the gutter. Sometimes, though, I know I can’t change an entire school’s mindset with a few nice words to a couple of students a day.
Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz explained in “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors” that people feel more comfortable speaking up about problems around them “when people feel secure in […] community support.” Positive growth around mental illness in a high school happens best when students feel like their classmates support them. While I was struggling with suicide, I wanted to help break the stigma against students like me. Every day, I heard ignorant people mock mental illness and the affected, like me, remained silent. Finally, I forced myself out of the bed my depression wanted to trap me in, carried my courage like a shield, and I joined Kirkwood High School’s Suicide Awareness Week (SAW) committee.
Over the past year, I’ve joined forces with a board of other students who want to rip holes through the stigma around mental illness at school. I’ve talked with counselors and students with experiences similar to mine to better grasp the issue of teen suicide at KHS and the rest of the country. I’ve helped gather statistics on how many students actually face depression and other illnesses every day, and I’ve felt the shock of knowing the majority of students at my school either deals with mental illness themselves or knows someone who does.
After working on the SAW committee, I’ve realized that we, the vulnerable, suicidal kids, are more willing to fight the stereotype of the depressed, emo kid than those who make depression-themed Instagram accounts and relentlessly use “kill myself” or “kms” as a text response. I’ve recognized that those people are in the minority, and the ones struggling are sometimes just too quiet to be heard.
Now, I’m not silent. Now, I’m yelling about my experiences with suicide from the rooftop of the skyscraper—not from the edge. Each day, I work toward creating a safe environment where students can speak up without others burdening them with the weight of an unjust stereotype. The suicidal kid doesn’t have to be the one in the back of an obscure art class with piercings and dyed-blue bangs covering their eyes. It can be the “normal,” kid in an AP class with a smile on their face who never shuts their mouth.
I know, because that kid is me.
And because I stand up for myself, I’m still here.