Alicia French, a senior at Tahoma High School, knows the darkness of suicide too well.
Her experience with suicide includes the deaths of family friends, a friend’s brother, and during her freshman year, her best friend.
“That (the death of her best friend) was what changed who I was as a person,” French said. “Literally right after he killed himself I said, ‘This is my chance to make a difference.’ I knew I had to make a difference.”
For French, making a difference means reaching out to her peers and working to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
“Feeling the way I did after my best friend committed suicide, I don’t want anyone to feel that,” French said. “I want people to feel like there is someone they can talk to.”
For her senior project French is organizing a 5K walk called Out of the Darkness, an event to raise awareness and fundraise for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The walk will be at Tahoma High School on Feb. 23. Check-in will begin at 9 a.m. and the walk will start at 10 a.m.
French said that all of the funds raised through the event will go toward providing counseling and other services for teens and young adults who are struggling with suicide and/or depression.
“I wanted to find someone who was helping,” French said. “Reaching out to them (the local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) was easy.”
French has been working to raise awareness of suicide prevention and of the walk by posting flyers, talking to school administrators and starting a Facebook page.
“It (suicide) is something that needs to be talked about,” French said.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults ages 10-24 in Washington state.
Based on a 2010 survey the department determined that, “18 percent of 10th graders (about 15,000 students) seriously thought about attempting suicide during the 12 months prior to the survey. Seven percent of 10th graders (about 6,000 students) reported making a suicide attempt in the 12 months prior to the survey,” according to the department’s website.
Monica Robbins, student assistance program counselor at THS, said that questions surrounding why someone decides to take their own life are often hard to deal with.
“That’s what makes suicide different than other kinds of death, Robbins said. “The questions that come afterward.”
French agreed and said that for her that was one of the biggest challenges she faced.
“You don’t always know why, not everyone leaves a note,” French said. “I felt like I didn’t do enough, but, honestly, I put a lot into trying to help him.”
For French, coming to terms with her friend’s death and grieving him was a long process.
“I was angry for the longest time,” French said. “Then I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘you gotta stop, you’re not helping anyone.’”
French said she realized that in her anger she was tearing her relationships down, instead of building them up, and that choice was up to her.
“I have so much positive going on, so much to look forward to,” French said. “The biggest thing to remember is to let yourself have time to adjust.”
French hopes that by raising awareness through the walk the stigma around suicide can be diminished and young adults can get the help they need.
“I want to help other people,” French said. “There are other options.”
To register for the walk at THS visit campuswalks.org.