Basha junior defensive back Cole Martin is one of 15 Arizona high school football players who have taken the pledge to raise awareness for teen suicide in the state.
Martin, who is one of the top players in the country in the 2023 class, has already began starring in a series of videos aimed at providing messages of hope to teens struggling with depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide. Often, these teens feel as if they are alone in their struggles and have nobody to talk to.
Martin and the 14 other players, in partnership with Teen Lifeline and the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club, hope to show them that is not the case.
“They help teens that are in need with suicide support,” Martin said. “It’s a great thing that I’m excited to help with. It’s something that, when they asked, I was more than willing to step up for. To be able to have my voice and have Basha High School be there to help support teens in need, it’s something I was excited to be a part of.”
The initiative began in September, which is recognized as Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Martin joined Sandra Day O’Connor linebacker Brandon Craddock in a video posted earlier this month about teen suicide. Together, the two explained the benefits of Teen Lifeline and that there were people to talk to if they are struggling.
Along with Martin and Craddock, Desert Edge’s Adryan Lara, Salpointe Catholic’s Davian Miranda Carrasco and Treyson Bourguet, Central’s Dominik Bagchi and Ironwood’s Jayden Sullivan are part of the initiative.
Additionally, Lucas Rice and Spencer Hoos from Arcadia, Nick Martinez from St. Mary’s, Taj Hughes from Brophy, Ironwood Ridge’s Tyler Haynie and Zach Oakes and Pinnacle’s Zach Wrenn are also involved.
More public service announcements similar to Martin’s featuring those other players have run since then and will continue to through the end of September. They are primarily posted on social media, including Twitter and Instagram, where Teen Lifeline Clinical Director Nikki Kontz says they are the most effective.
“People have reached out on the hotline after seeing the videos on social media,” Kontz said. “Sometimes all it takes is the right person at the right time to be listening to that video on Insta(gram).”
Kontz has been involved with Teen Lifeline for 27 years. She began volunteering with the group when she was 16 years old as a sophomore at Xavier Prep in Phoenix. She became involved after she lost a close friend to suicide. She continued working with the group through college while she obtained her degree.
Since then, she has made a career out of helping teens.
“I immediately fell in love,” Kontz said. “As a teenager, it’s hard to know or feel like you’re making an impact and that your voice is also recognized as important. Teen Lifeline was that for me. I felt like with every phone call I could make a difference in someone’s life.”
Teen Lifeline provides an anonymous phone and text line for teens struggling with their mental health. Just in 2020 alone, the organizations received 23,341 calls and 11,497 text messages from teens struggling with mental health. Kontz said the pandemic, which forced teens to be isolated and take online classes, played a major role.
Of those calls, Teen Lifeline says 23 percent were from teens 13 years old or younger. Thirty-seven percent were from those ages 13-15, and 31 percent from teens ages 16-18. Just nine percent were 19 years old or older.
“I’ve known a couple of people, my friends, who have struggled,” Martin said. “It’s people that I’ve been close to, people I’ve known. It means more to me than just helping anybody else out. It’s a change I want to help start. I’m just happy to hopefully be able to help.”
Before the pandemic began in 2019, 38 teens children ages 8-17 died by suicide. According to Teen Lifeline, that equaled one child every 9.6 days.
Just in the last year, the Arizona high school athletics community has felt the unfortunate effects of mental health struggles from some athletes.
Last spring, Perry sophomore Zyon Anderson died by suicide. He had struggled with his mental health leading up to his death, and repeatedly received help from his mother, Nailah Hendrickson, who told the Gilbert Sun News it was a difficult process.
“This has been emotionally, financially, and mentally devastating,” Hendrickson said last April. “This caught us by surprise and it’s not something we had planned for.”
In August, the Desert Vista community was caught off-guard by a death that hit close to home for many.
A senior at the school, died by suicide on Aug. 31, according to records from the Maricopa County Coroner’s Office.
Kontz hopes with the help of football players like Martin, teens will realize they are not alone.
“Sometimes it’s that one kid who sees a player and thinks, ‘Wow, this kid who has no problems and is living the dream through high school and they’re sending me this message. Maybe I can do one more day,’” Kontz said. “I think that’s so empowering and so powerful. That’s why we started this partnership. These players realize they have a role. Wearing that uniform, people see them in that uniform and look at them differently.
“These players want to use that and make people realize they aren’t alone.”
Teens who are struggling are encouraged to contact Teen Lifeline (602) 248-TEEN (8336) or (800) 248-TEEN. They can also text with a teen peer counselor at (602) 248-8336 between noon and 9 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. on weekends.
The Teen Lifeline hotline is staffed by teen peer counselors from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily with trained, professional counselors available at all other times.