Everyone feels pain. Kamiak High School student Sargun Handa shared that truth in a TEDx talk more than a year ago.
She spoke at the 2017 Sno-Isle Libraries event about her struggles with depression and Crohn’s disease, and about the anguish of losing a high school friend to suicide. Handa’s talk was also one of hope, and of her belief that community service is a way out of isolation.
Now a 17-year-old senior at Kamiak, Handa serves as a member of the Mukilteo Youth Advisory Committee. Next week, the group will present a suicide-prevention event called “Mukilteo Stands Behind Youth.”
Open to all but especially for teens, the free event is scheduled for 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Rosehill Community Center. It will include a screening of the documentary “Suicide: The Ripple Effect,” a panel discussion and snacks.
The film features Kevin Hines. In 2000, when he was 19, Hines survived a suicidal jump from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Now a mental health advocate, Hines was in Snohomish County in September as keynote speaker for a Compass Health fundraising event.
“I didn’t want to die. I believed I had to,” Hines said in an interview with The Daily Herald last summer.
Handa said her TEDx message “was about me talking the talk.” The event planned for Wednesday “is me walking the walk.” It’s meant to bring people together to talk openly about mental health and suicide prevention.
“It really hits home, not just for me but everyone on our committee,” Handa said. “We would have liked to see this when we were first in high school.”
It was Nov. 4, 2017, when Handa and others spoke at Sno-Isle’s TEDx event at Kamiak. She described the isolation she felt after being diagnosed with Crohn’s, or inflammatory bowel disease, on her 10th birthday. Handa said that being “so different from everyone pushed me into a pit of depression.”
During Handa’s sophomore year, a friend who was new to the school took her life. Grief expressed on social media was fleeting, she told the TEDx crowd. Handa was compelled to get more involved with others, face-to-face, through volunteering.
She had encouraging words for anyone who might be struggling with depression: “You’re not alone. We all feel alone and afraid,” she told the TEDx audience. “Everyone feels pain.”
Nancy Passovoy, executive assistant with the city of Mukilteo, said the youth advisory committee is made up of 15 Kamiak students. Chosen through an application and interview process, they advise the city on issues important to young people. City Council members Anna Rohrbough and Sarah Kneller work with the youth group.
This year’s group is “very motivated to do community projects,” Passovoy said. “This is a difficult subject that’s important in this community. It’s happened a number of times,” she said of youth suicide.
Handa believes academic expectations can contribute to mental health issues. “Kamiak is a high-performing school, with amazing academics, fine arts and sports. That puts pressure on our students,” said Handa, who has two older siblings in college.
The Snohomish Health District’s most recent Healthy Youth Survey, released in 2017 and containing answers from 14,000 kids countywide, showed sobering numbers of students who said they had attempted suicide: nearly 5 percent of sixth graders, 9 percent of eighth graders, 11 percent of 10th graders and roughly 10 percent of 12th graders.
The health district’s Wendy Burchill, quoted in The Herald about the survey, said she sees a “lack of hopefulness” among youth.
Burchill, who specializes in community health issues, is scheduled to be part of the discussion panel at the event, Handa said. Also expected are representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, along with a former Kamiak student support advocate.
The student group set up an online fundraiser to pay the $500 licensing fee to show the film. As of Thursday, $575 had been raised.
“We’re 15 students reaching our hands out, trying to get people from all walks of life to see this as an issue that concerns all of us,” Handa said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suicide prevention event in Mukilteo
“Mukilteo Stands Behind Youth” is a free suicide-prevention event scheduled for 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave., Mukilteo. Includes showing of the documentary film “Suicide: The Ripple Effect,” a panel discussion, and snacks. Sponsored by the Mukilteo Youth Advisory Committee. All are welcome.