In 2012 my family experienced the loss of my brother Nathan due to suicide. After spending a full weekend with him at my parent’s house, none of us knew what was coming just two days later that Tuesday evening. The unanswered questions, unresolved feelings and sense of loss never goes away. No parent, sibling, family member or friend should have to feel what my family has felt.
As I have become more involved over the years both politically and with our community’s youth, I began to notice that while our schools do the best they can there are no conversations or information put into the hands of students regarding suicide or suicide prevention.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death between the ages of 10-34, claiming more than 40,000 lives across the nation --- 1,237 of them right here in Arizona. During the 2017-18 school year many East Valley/Pinal County schools were facing an epidemic. There were 30-plus suicides in local East Valley schools in a 15-month period, five of them at Queen Creek High School. Our very own AJUSD is no stranger to suicides over the years either.
As I became more engrossed with our youth through the local Pinal County Youth Empowerment Partnership, I began to see our youth’s cry for help. The vast array of issues they face today is beyond compare. As I spoke to more middle and high school-aged students, I began to understand that while they knew resources were available, they did not know how to access them. Let alone did they feel comfortable because what if word got out.
We had to find a way to make the information known to our kids and make sure they understood that they are not alone and there are resources and adults willing to help. This is what began my quest across Pinal County to ensure that all middle and high school student ID cards have suicide prevention information on the back of them.
Now, being in the line of work that I am in, I have the unique fortune to work with our county’s school superintendents frequently. I began to set up meetings and lobby them with this information. Slowly, I began to understand that some schools districts already had this, others printed stickers and put them on the ID’s, others simply made posters. But there was no uniformity. There was, however, agreement that they could be doing more and thus we set off to make it happen.
Our very own AJUSD Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson was one of the very first supporters of this and jumped to make this happen at AJUSD. She reached out to her team and discovered that there was an inconsistency in who the schools use to print their ID cards. One school used company A, the other company B. This obviously was another “issue” that Dr. Anderson could address but for now, we needed to see how much it would cost to add the life-saving information onto the back of the ID cards. Much to our surprise, we learned that the companies who print the ID cards would do it for free.
This began the domino effect of school district by school district making the same type of call/request. While more districts in Pinal County have since adopted this as part of their ID requirements we still do not have all of them. But we are working on it.
Editor’s note: Braden Biggs, formerly with the United Way of Pinal County, is the director of communications and program development at Empowerment Systems Inc. in Apache Junction.