Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: A world without suicide starts with our youths

by Megan N. Wilmoth

If you thought you could save your teenager or young adult loved one from taking their own life, wouldn’t you do just about anything? If we make it easier for the younger generation to share their feelings and feel validated, would the mental health crisis be a crisis at all?

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in adolescents aged 15-19, which is a staggering statistic. Youth and young adults are at a pivotal moment in their lives where they are developing their own identities and their own emotional behaviors. They are under extreme stress to be like their peers and keep the adults in their lives happy. Surrounding these individuals with a supportive, loving and protective environment is paramount.

June 16, 2022, was a day that forever impacted my family and made the fight to prevent suicide our family’s purpose.

A 17-year-old Matthew had been struggling with anxiety and depression for four years leading up to his death. He also had other ailments, such as Type I diabetes since the age of 7 and celiac disease since his early preteen years. Mattie was in and out of therapy and had taken different medications throughout his short life, but the battle became too much, and he lost his fight on that warm Thursday afternoon.

What if there were early screening tools for school systems or safe places within schools for the youth of this country to express their feelings and seek help? Just like the pain tools we use as health care providers to assess pain within our patients, what if there was a scalable tool to assess a person’s mental health status and their risk of making a life-changing choice?

Furthermore, what if schools had their own therapist or a mental health advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who was a safe haven for students to talk to if they felt they don’t have anyone else? As a society, if we can start prevention early, then it may stop these mental health struggles from spilling over into adulthood.

Factors leading to mental health include: the stigma around talking about anxiety and depression and/or taking mental health medications, limited access to mental health services and lack of support at home or school. Younger individuals feel they can’t speak of their struggles with mental health for fear of being different or being made fun of by their peers. They need to understand that this will pass and that there can be better and brighter days in their future.

A major component to early identification and prevention is access to mental health services — of which there is a shortage in our society.

On Sept. 29, 2020, the Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2020 was passed by the House of Representatives. This act provides for comprehensive school-based mental health services through grants and other funding, if eligible, to support the younger populations in communities and schools dealing with trauma, grief or thoughts of suicide. Two of the aspects of this act are the implementation of mental health-based programs and the training of appropriate staff to recognize the early warning signs of trauma and suicidal thoughts and ideations.

So, I ask again, if you knew there was a way to prevent your loved ones from ending their lives before those thoughts even begin, wouldn’t you do anything humanly possible to protect them? As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you to reach out to representatives with your own story and ideas on how to prevent something so tragic from happening so frequently. Please email with new actions and possible collaborations to support continued mental health research.

In loving memory of Matthew “Mattie” Brian Wilmoth (Feb. 2, 2005-June 16, 2022).

Megan N. Wilmoth was born and raised in Morgantown and is a registered nurse at WVU Medicine Children’s. She is in graduate school seeking a master’s in Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.