Counselor sharing his story with students
(Editor's note: This is the fifth in a long-term series of stories)
Would this help?
That was the question Newberg resident and George Fox University admissions counselor Nate McIntyre asked his high school contacts in the area when he decided it was time to do some public speaking and share his own story in hopes of helping others.
Since reaching out in February, McIntyre has been speaking at high schools about his own experience with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and even thoughts of suicide, encouraging others who may be feeling the same way that they're not alone.
As it turns out, the biggest hurdle McIntyre faced was asking that simple question.
"It's been bubbling up for a while, just that I want to get out and share," McIntyre said. "I wasn't really sure, then finally, it just kind of hit me that I just need to offer. The thought that came to my mind was that I have to offer myself in service to others and not wait to be asked. I was waiting to be asked."
It was that question that helped McIntyre learn about the prevalence of suicide at Newberg High School in recent years, as a counselor filled him in and said his timing could not have been better, so he made his first presentation there earlier this spring.
"Just hearing about four or five suicides in a year, of young people, in little Newberg, that's an eye opener," McIntyre said. "Regardless of how big Newberg is, that's a problem."
McIntyre has been speaking almost exclusively at high schools, but earlier this month he gave presentations at Mountain View Middle School and his message was well received.
In part, McIntyre said he was spurred to engage a younger audience by his son, Eli, who is a sixth grade student at MVMS. After serving as a practice audience, Eli convinced his dad that he had should do it at his school, too.
In addition, it was shortly after giving his first presentation at Newberg High School that McIntyre received an email from MVMS principal Michele Paton warning parents that the high school had received a string of reports about suicide attempts and encouraging them to engage with their children on the tough topic. So again, McIntyre reached out and Paton was more than happy to enlist his help.
"He was a little unsure, but the message was amazing," Paton said. "I sat in on his first presentation and kids really got it. They knew where he was coming from and they got what he was saying. It was great."
McIntyre opened his presentation at Mountain View by talking about how low self-esteem played a role in the depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation he experienced during high school and later in life. He told students that for him, it started as early as elementary school, when he began to compare himself with other people.
As he got to middle school and experienced how kids began to belittle others, he started believing what they were saying about him, as well as what he was thinking about himself, that he was more athletic or better at this or that.
He warned the kids that these kinds of comparisons aren't fair because we don't see what other people are thinking and often assume that things are better or easier for them than they really are. It's especially prevalent on social media, too.
"Please remember that people are only putting the positive stuff on there and it's really easy to start comparing ourselves to others through that," McIntyre said. "That's a really dangerous thing to do."
McIntyre began to suffer from depression and anxiety in high school, which contributed to thoughts of suicide out of feelings of hopelessness.
Over the course of several presentations, McIntyre told the students that if they have had those kinds of thoughts to know that they're not alone. Even if they haven't, he reminded them that there are others around them who probably have and that talking about any negative thoughts can be helpful in overcoming them.
"I got better and things are a lot better now," McIntyre said. "To be here today talking to you is such a rewarding thing for me. It's part of my getting-better process because I can share with you guys and hopefully my experience can help even just a couple of you out, then that would mean the world to me."
To demonstrate how widespread low self-esteem, mental health issues and suicidal ideation are, McIntyre shared the stories of a number of celebrities, from Justin Bieber and Emma Watson to Angelina Jolie and Will Smith, who have experienced them, too.
In addition to realizing they are not alone, McIntyre wanted to make sure students walked away with two other principles or mantras that they could practice telling themselves to help combat the kind of thinking that he struggled with. One was that there are people that care about them and that they are worthy of love and belonging.
"Our brains are like muscles, so if you exercise it and teach it to think the right things, it gets a lot easier to think those things," McIntyre said. "Most of us, me included, spend a lot of time training our brains to think the wrong things. We believe bad things about ourselves. We believe bad things about other people. But we can learn to think the right things."
Because he didn't know about the prevalence of suicide among young people in Newberg when he set out to share his story, McIntyre said that doing so has been like "stepping into a bigger picture" of a wider community response to the problem.
Uncovering a connection to another community member's efforts helped hammer that home, as McIntyre reached out to friend and local public speaking coach Amy Wolf for some pointers for his presentations.
He didn't tell her what he would be speaking about and didn't learn until later that Wolff was behind the "Don't Give Up" signs that have popped up around town in recent months.
"Seeing what Amy's doing, I do feel like, kind of by accident, I'm part of something that's hopefully making a difference," McIntyre said.
Paton said McIntyre's message is one that students and young people need to hear and she's been grateful for the various ways the community has responded to support the school district.
"Resources are coming out of the woodwork for all of us," she said. "All throughout the district there are different resources stepping forward that we might not have been able to identify, so it's been a real positive."