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Pageant title holder using year to promote teen suicide prevention
By KATIE SHAW
POULSBO — Natalie Myers will be a junior in fall at North Kitsap High School. She plays basketball and volleyball at North and won the Doug McKay Scholarship en route to winning the 2014 Miss Viking Fest title. She always seems to have a smile on her face.
Unless she tells you about it, you wouldn’t know that she was depressed and suicidal for about a month during her sophomore year. She sought help, and wants others to talk openly about depression and suicide so they aren’t afraid to seek help, too.
Teen suicide prevention is Myers’ platform as Miss Viking Fest.
“I remember going home after school everyday and crying and not knowing what to do,” Myers said. “It was tough. I told my mom, ‘I’ve never felt this low in my life.’ I hit rock bottom.
“It was weird because I’m such a happy person. I’m really outgoing. I put people in front of myself; that’s what I enjoy doing. I love seeing other people achieve their goals. And me feeling that way was weird, and I knew there was something wrong.”
Myers said she was already depressed when her basketball coach, while lecturing her and the team, told them if they didn’t want to be there they should leave.
Myers fixed onto that phrase and tuned out everything else.
“I don’t really even know what got me started with the suicide thoughts,” Myers said. “It just happened … I would go to school and I would see people at school and weird thoughts were coming in my head, like how would these people feel if I wasn’t here anymore, and would they even notice if I was gone. I didn’t even know at the time — it was just a thought …”
According to the Kitsap County Core Public Health Indicators report, the suicide death rate in Kitsap in 2013 was 100 per 100,000 residents. A total of 1,920 eighth-graders reported seriously considering suicide in 2012, an increase of 6.81 percent from 2006.
Dr. Scott Lindquist, the county’s health officer and a Bremerton physician, said the increase in suicide has not been significant, as it has always been an issue. Also, the statistics are not entirely reliable, since death certificates do not always list suicide as cause of death (if someone intentionally drives a vehicle off a bridge, the cause of death might be given as “motor vehicle accident”).
Nevertheless, more teenagers are at-risk for suicide than in the past. “Life is a lot more complicated for a teenager than it’s ever been,” Lindquist said.
There have been two teen suicides at NKHS in the last two years alone.
“[Suicide] is not something talked about,” Myers said. “It should be talked about, because kids are actually committing suicide. It’s too bad because there are so many resources and so many more people on their side than they even know.”
Aside from a few days of freshman health class that students take once, suicide is practically a taboo subject, Myers said.
“In a way, I think they’re afraid,” Myers said of the topic’s stigma. “People think that all these outsiders are the ones to commit suicide. I think people are afraid to talk about it because they’re afraid that more people are going to think about [committing suicide].
“At first it was really hard to talk about it. Now it’s a relief. It’s nice to know that people know what’s going on.”
“It’s good practice to have an open line of communication with your kids about suicide,” Lindquist said. He recommends approaching anyone who exhibits warning signs and asking them directly if they are suicidal. “You’re not going to make someone commit suicide by asking them about it, he said.
That’s what Myers’ mom did — she confronted Natalie, told her she was suicidal and that they were going to get help.
Although Myers admits that her mom’s confrontation was the scariest moment of her life, she said it was a relief; she finally knew what was going on and that she was going to get better.
“I talked to everyone about it,” Myers said. “I went up to my team and said, ‘You know, this is how you’re making me feel.’ And it changed. It changed. From that point, knowing how I’d felt, I knew that I had to do something to make sure other people don’t feel that way.”
Myers will produce several events at her school in 2014-15. Her plans include a suicide prevention week and speaking to health classes 12 times about her experiences and suicide prevention.
“I’m on sports teams, I won a pageant,” Myers said. “People wouldn’t even realize I would go through that. It’s OK to talk to people about it, it’s OK to get help.
“[If someone is at-risk] they don’t act themselves. I know I didn’t act myself. I was depressed and I kind of sheltered myself. I didn’t want to make connections with people, because I felt like I was hurting them in a way. I was really quiet, I didn’t really talk much, and I’m a talkative person. I remember just trying to cut myself away from people. That’s something to look for.”
Other warning signs include erratic behavior (such as giving away possessions or planning their death), depression, being emotionally distraught (perhaps because of a breakup or a death) and talking about suicide, Lindquist said.
Teen suicide week will let kids know there are people on their side, boost their confidence, and allow them to reach out, Myers said.
Myers will have other responsibilities as Miss Viking Fest in the coming year, such as appearing at parades and festivals across Washington state, where she will represent Poulsbo, and doing volunteer work at places like North Kitsap Fishline and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“There’s so much care in [Natalie],” Miss Viking Fest director Alisa Foresee said. “I couldn’t have picked a better Miss Viking Fest if I tried.”
Myers said she is doing much better. She’s looking forward to college, where she wants to study to become a dental hygienist.
“I look at it as the past, because it is,” she said. “The times I do think about it, there’s a part of me that wishes I did things differently or confronted these people earlier, but at the same time, I learned from it and it made me a stronger person. Now that I went through that experience, I can help others.”
Kitsap Mental Health’s Bremerton Crisis Clinic hotline can be reached at 360-479-3033, or 1-800-843-4793. Call 1-800-SUICIDE for the Washington state hotline.
For other resources, go to www.suicide.org.