Emily Watters is sick of losing Wellington High School classmates to suicide.
The junior cheerleader and multi-sport varsity letterman asked the board of education at its most recent meeting what is being done in the district to address bullying and mental health problems.
“Two students have killed themselves since last year,” she said. “One was a junior and one was a freshman. Obviously, something has to change in our schools. We can’t let these tragedies happen and not do anything about them.”
“I’ve dealt with my own depression,” she went on to say. “I know as a freshman, all I wanted was for someone to ask me if I’m OK and to know that I was struggling. It can be a very hard thing for someone to admit that and ask for help.”
Tyson McKinley, 15, was found dead at his home Sept. 20 after apparently taking his own life.
On May 19, 2016, Josh Byers, 17, shot himself at the Wellington Reservoir and passed away later that day.
Superintendent Ed Weber invited Watters to the board’s Nov. 6 meeting where Life Act, a student suicide prevention group based in Cleveland, is scheduled to give a presentation with hopes of eventually working directly with Wellington students.
Founded in 1992, Life Act has implemented its program in nearly 200 Ohio school districts. Weber said during his 10 years as principal of the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, students greatly benefited from Life Act.
“This group has a very good track record,” Weber said. “It’s very comprehensive. Some of the bullying relates back to how students manage relationships and how many aspects of mental health interconnect.”
After the meeting, Watters provided insight on some of her own experiences with depression and how a person’s life circumstances don’t make them immune.
“People who seem happy and have a ton of things going on can be the most depressed when no one is looking,” she said. “They don’t want people to know. They want to shield it from everyone. It depends on the person. It can be the happiest person you see or the saddest. No one knows what’s going on behind the scenes for any person.”
“People still walk down the hallways (at school) and say mean things to others every day,” she said. “There hasn’t really been an effort to educate students on mental health. There’s things that go on with me that people have no idea of. That’s how I put myself in others’ shoes. I understand what they’re feeling because I’ve felt that too.”
A countywide survey conducted last school year found that more than a quarter of high school students have felt “sad and hopeless” and 15 percent seriously contemplated suicide.
Watters said mounting academic and social pressure plays a part in those numbers, but also that rampant depression is nothing new for young people.
“People are more educated on the signs of mental health problems now,” she said. “But society also holds people to higher standards nowadays and that leads to depression. So I guess people notice problems more often now but there’s also more problems than there used to be.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.