It was spring of 2016 when Inga Harty felt called into action.
“There were a couple local suicides, one at Rock Island High School and another at Alleman. That really started me thinking about resources, what are we doing to prevent this instead of just respond to it?” Harty said. She is a mother of two high school students herself.
“One of the students that died by suicide really reminded me of my own son, in that he’s funny, he’s smiling,” Harty said. Desperate to help, Harty started researching the teen suicide epidemic.
“This could happen to anybody. I just can’t imagine,” Harty said. “Ann Marie’s Law passed in August, 2015. It requires schools to have age-appropriate materials and policies to discuss suicide prevention and awareness,” Harty said. That’s when she teamed up with Marji Boeye, Rock-Milan School Board member, and also a mom of two teens.
“There are kids that are hurting. What can we do to increase their chances of getting through this rollercoaster?” Boeye said. The pair started by inviting guest speakers to the school district. Students were educated on the four circles of health: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental.
“Much like physical health is stimulating your heart, mental health is stimulating your brain. He said watching Netflix, playing video games, looking through Facebook or Twitter are passive activities. That is not stimulating your brain,” Boeye said. Students also learned that emotional health is exercised through creativity.
“It really reinforced to me the importance of art education, music education, and some of the creative outlets that are being taken away because of budgetary issues,” Boeye said. Then the pair started promoting the National Crisis Text Line.
“Text 741-741,” Harty said. Trained counselors respond 24-hours a day, providing free crisis intervention.
“They have data scientists that are looking at all the texts that come in. They are looking at certain words and how certain words put them higher in the cue to be answered. So, they’re really able to look at what these kids are saying, really talk to them, and potentially get them the help they need,” Boeye said. Now, they’ve created a local resource on social media. It’s called Suicide Prevention and Resilient Kids (SPARK).
“As they encounter the very difficult things that happen as you grow up, especially in this day and age, that they are able to cope and help each other. Also, to have that communication with their families, their teachers, their coaches,” Harty said.