Stephanie Scott, the University of Central Oklahoma’s internship coordinator, had been involved with suicide prevention efforts for a number of years but quit in 2006.
“I was mad at my best friend,” she said, explaining that she’s considered a suicide survivor even though she never herself attempted it on her own. “So I can’t relate to that part. But I was present for one.”
Scott, who spoke to participants of Saturday morning’s suicide prevention walk at UCO, said she had three pieces of advice for anyone who’s lost a loved one to suicide:
No. 1 — Learn CPR. Most people are surprised by that, Scott said. Had she not been already trained in how to perform CPR, she would not have been calm enough to try to save her friend’s life, to survey the scene or to sleep at night. Even though she felt like she failed she knew she had done everything right.
“I showed up and I tried to help, and that’s my entire philosophy on life — to show up and try to help,” Scott said. “That’s all I ever want to do for anybody.”
No. 2 — Grief is messy, Scott said. It spills over into everything and it doesn’t end in six months or seven years. Saturday morning was the five-year anniversary of losing her friend.
“I can say today is the first day that I miss my friend,” she said. “It’s the first day that I’m not mad at him. And it’s the first day that I wish he were here and could see what I’m doing right now. It’s taken me five years not to be angry at him.”
Don’t put a timeline on grief and don’t expect more of yourself, Scott said. She did that for a while and wasted some time doing that.
No. 3 — Especially for children, it’s not your fault, Scott said. If someone you know killed themselves and you have stress or anxiety it’s not your fault. You’re job is to be kind, and if you’re doing that it’s not your fault, she said.
“But if you hear someone say something about wanting to take their own life take it seriously even if it makes them mad,” Scott said.
Know that it is possible to stand up and talk to people about the issue when you’ve lost your best friend to suicide, Scott said. She said when she is walking she would be doing it to support parents who have lost a child, for brothers or sisters who have lost a sibling, for those who have lost a best friend.
“We’re putting one foot in front of the other because that’s the only way to get through this and to do it together,” Scott said.
UCO’s “Out of the Darkness” walk began at Broncho Lake and proceeded through the Edmond campus. To support suicide prevention, the university partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to present the walk and raise funds for the AFSP.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college and high school students, according to the foundation’s website. The AFSP performs research and provides resources to people impacted by suicide and those with mental disorders.
David Threatt, chairman of the event, said it was the second year for the UCO walk. Threatt said he would like to see participation from the UCO community increase.
“I love to see all the families out and wearing the T-shirts in honor of their loved ones,” he said. “The main message we want to get out is there is hope, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can come out of that dark place and still be productive.”
Heather Powers, of Oklahoma City, is president of To Write Love on Her Arms (twloha.com), a UCO campus organization that co-sponsored Saturday’s walk. The organization is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. It works to encourage, inform, inspire and invest directly into treatment and recovery.
Powers said she has had depression issues and likes the fact that the organization stresses that hope is real.
“When I lost my neighbor to suicide I knew that I wanted to walk in her honor, to be here for her parents,” Powers said.
She struggled with grief, but participating in the event means she is helping others, Powers said. The day after losing her neighbor she lost her pet horse she rides. Her horse helped pull her out of depression a few years ago.
Powers said her hopes for the walk are to get rid of the stigma attached to mental illness. When people here she has depression, they automatically begin to treat her like a second-class citizen even though she’s still the same person she was before they found out, she said.
She also wanted to tell people things do get better, there is hope.
FOR ASSISTANCE with mental health issues, call 211, HeartLine’s 24/7 information and referral line for health and human service needs. Callers can get help, hope and information from a database of more than 3,000 partner agencies and 6,000 individual services. Another resource is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a helpline answered by HeartLine in Oklahoma. For immediate help, call 911.