During graduation season I think back on how lucky I was to make it through high school. I was one of the statistics the media has been talking about; one of the 9% of eighth graders who become suicidal.
I want to thank the many reporters who've taken the initiative to bring this epidemic to light and the stakeholders helping children facing mental health problems. Here's my story and how I survived:
April 2011, I showed up to school with fresh cuts on my arms and legs. Blood from the wounds still wet, soaked through patches of my sweatshirt. I was cutting myself because there was still a part of me that wanted to live even though I was a highly suicidal 11-year-old. I was hospitalized later that day.
Fortunately my mom recognized a child who was struggling with their mental health and could get me the help I needed, but many parents aren't equipped that way. There's also no official, required training to handle severe mental illness in K-12 schools. These suicidal children are seen as just kids seeking attention. The symptoms are often brushed off and the children slip through the cracks.
After residential treatment I dropped out of middle school three times over three years, each time because of a mental health issue. Some days lying in bed was both easier and harder than going to school, because my anxious, suicidal thoughts followed me everywhere.
I was still recovering from the trauma of my childhood, I was not fully healed, and people and sounds overwhelmed me easily. I wondered if I'd ever be able to go to high school.
Thankfully, a loving counselor from middle school recommended that I enrolled in an online public school called Oregon Connections Academy.
I finally had the right to choose. If I was too depressed to get out of bed, I kept sleeping and worked on school later in the day. However, those days quickly became anomalies. I planned my days according to my needs.
If every student had this choice, perhaps the mortality rate from suicide would drop significantly. It did for me. Once I had a safe space to learn from home, my grades improved, I eventually became student body vice president, and I was a featured speaker at the graduation ceremony. Today I'm working on a degree in neuroscience at Oregon State University and hope to become a psychologist.
I'm also glad to see state lawmakers taking action this year requiring schools to develop suicide prevention plans and earmarking funding so schools can do a better job of dealing with safety problems including bullying, self-harm and other issues.
While I don't think online school works for every child experiencing mental health challenges, I do think it offers a supportive environment for students struggling in brick-and-mortar schools. For children currently facing suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues, I'm hopeful they will find the help they need before it's too late.
Anna Mallery is an alumna of Oregon Connections Academy, Class of 2017, a student at the Oregon State University Cascades campus and a Bend resident.
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