After the second teenager at Horizon High School committed suicide this year, Sarah Bernes had enough. The Scottsdale senior decided to spread a message in the form of small green bracelets: “You are not alone.”
Bernes, 17, is working with the school’s National Honor Society to raise money and awareness of Teen Lifeline, a hot line run for teens by teens that provides safe, confidential crisis services to prevent suicide.
This week, Bernes is taking donations and selling Teen Lifeline bracelets for $2, hoping to raise $5,000 for the nonprofit group.
Principal Anthony Capuano is pitching in, too, promising to dye his hair green if Bernes reaches her goal.
“The fact that the high school students are the ones saying, ‘Let’s talk about this, let’s not keep it silent anymore’ — I think that’s amazing,” said Nikki Kontz, clinical coordinator for Teen Lifeline. “She’s creating awareness not just for our program, but awareness in general around teen suicide. It’s an epidemic in Arizona, and it’s definitely touched the Scottsdale and Paradise Valley communities, and it’s devastating.”
The Paradise Valley Unified School District has seen three teen suicides this year, and seven over the past five years, according to Teen Lifeline.
“We’ve had a big problem with suicide in our community for a number of years,” Bernes said. She attributes part of the problem to people’s reluctance to talk openly about suicide.
“It’s a very uncomfortable, kind of taboo topic. A lot of times it comes from fear,” she said. “But when the community remains silent, it ends up hurting people more.”
Kontz said one of the biggest suicide myths is that if you talk about it, teens will think about doing it.
It’s quite the opposite, she said, because in communities where people talk about suicide, teenagers with suicidal thoughts aren’t ashamed to seek help.
“It’s something that’s already out there. It’s already affecting every single student at Horizon, so we’re not putting it in their heads,” Kontz said. “By talking about it, we’re raising awareness that it’s preventable, we’re helping them identify what to look for.”
Teen Lifeline What it is: A 24-hour crisis hot line teens can call to speak with peers about problems in their lives.
Who runs it: 52 teens with 70 hours of training. They take some 6,000 calls annually, many involving suicide.
How to reach it: (602) 248-8336, Toll-free at (800) 248-8336
Donations can be mailed to: Teen Lifeline, P.O. Box 10745, Phoenix, AZ 85064