JDHS hosts an annual Take a Timeout to Talk - Suicide Prevention Awareness game on Wednesday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

JDHS hosts an annual Take a Timeout to Talk - Suicide Prevention Awareness game on Wednesday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

JDHS hosts annual Suicide Prevention Awareness game

“The event is about encouraging teens to evaluate their lives…”

Melissa McCormick decided to use the loss of her son to suicide as motivation for her efforts in helping others avoid similar experiences.

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall.

Editor’s note: This article includes references to suicide. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7.

McCormick said it was her son Speier’s untimely death in 2017 that inspired her to form the Find Your Fire organization, a local nonprofit with the mission of empowering and educating young adults in the community.

“When you lose your son to something like this, it took me a while to obviously get my bearings, but I just felt like I need to be able to help someone else,” McCormick said “I wasn’t able to do what I thought I could do as a mom and so when I’m struggling with my own inner demons and depression about this, I have to push forward, and I think by sharing our story it might help someone else.”

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé will host its annual Suicide Prevention Awareness game at 7 p.m. Wednesday as the Crimson Bears boys basketball team takes on Colony High School with McCormick’s nonprofit, Find Your Fire, along with the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition.

McCormick said Find Your Fire has been partnering with JDHS for these Take a Timeout to Talk nights since the nonprofit first took shape in 2019. The goal of Find Your Fire is to engage with young adults to learn about what they’re passionate about and then help to provide opportunities to learn about the resources that are available to them, according to McCormick.

“We’ve hosted several events from around town,” McCormick said. “That includes one event called Self-Care Saturday, which was at Thunder Mountain High School, where kids could come and take part in several different types of workshops, everything from yoga to meditation to life skills and conversations about healthy relationships.”

McCormick said the nonprofit is trying to turn Take a Timeout into a night where peers can recognize some of the signs that manifest different changes in attitudes and behaviors. For example, when kids are struggling with depression, feelings of irritability or hopelessness, they can be more irritable than normal, according to McCormick. Signs may range from conflicts or arguments with family or friends, loss of appetite, sleeping too much or too little, isolation and self-harm.

“We try to have conversations with students throughout the year and do workshops inside of high schools, and even with this event, in the past we’ve done a timeout with the entire team, we’ll go meet with them for 30-minutes and tell them about the event and why we’re hosting it and then focus on teaching them a brief synopsis about suicide prevention,” McCormick said. “So, we’ve had some really great conversations leading up to the Take a Timeout Night.”

McCormick said Find Your Fire currently has signs posted around town with statements such as “You Matter” or “You Are Worthy of Love.” This year McCormick said many of those signs are going to be translated into the Tlingit language, which will then be posted throughout this spring and summer. In addition to having signs available at the game, McCormick said volunteers will also be passing out bracelets and other items to the crowd. Everyone in attendance is encouraged to wear purple in honor of suicide awareness. McCormick said after JDHS’s principal gives a speech at the game’s halftime, volunteers will throw T-shirts into the crowd. The cheer team will also perform a cheer that incorporates the text help hotline, which recently changed from 741741 to 988.

“All the event is about encouraging teens to evaluate their lives and maybe their social media usage,” McCormick said. “Also, to identify new ways to engage and at the same time just watching out for their peers and seeing how they can help them.”

McCormick said this will be the first year that Find Your Fire is going to try to do two separate awareness nights. Typically in the past, McCormick explained that these awareness nights usually take place during a TMHS vs. JDHS game, which has been ideal for reaching more of the local community at the game. With TMHS hosting this year’s Region V tournament, McCormick is hopeful they can set something up for the beginning of March as a way of reaching out to more of Southeast Alaska.

JDHS boys head coach Robert Casperson said he feels fortunate that the school is in a position to help provide an avenue through games to approach such a sensitive topic that’s of “the utmost importance.”

“Our program has dealt with suicide in the past in several different ways, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s life hasn’t been impacted in some way through suicide,” Casperson said. “So, having an event where we can discuss the resources available to try to help people before it gets to that point really matters a lot.

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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