Over the weekend, D.J. Deas’s parents returned to Navarre only eight short months after he took his own life. They came to talk about suicide, they came to talk about it out loud, they came to reach students, parents and teachers who knew D.J. and those who didn’t.
He was the boy who seemingly had the world at his fingertips. He was part of a very close-knit football team. The Navarre Raiders work and play hard, and in the end, they are like brothers. They are there for one another. The coaches become father figures, instilling a work ethic and community mindedness. None of which was lost on D.J.
Just a week ago, another boy in the opposite corner of south county in Gulf Breeze took his life. He was, by all accounts, a star baseball player.
One thing we know about D.J., he wasn’t the one who showed the “signs” we typically refer to in the case of a suicide. According to save.org, warning signs may include:
- Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Notice half of the list uses the word “talking.” Many young men and women do not talk about their pain (physical and mental). They don’t hand us the red flags and wait for us to save them. The ones who are most at risk may not be reaching for help, but rather reaching for whatever can end their life. They are silently killing themselves. No talking, no saying it – they just do it.
Parents: we need you to be in tune with your child. We need you to slow down long enough to say, “how are you doing?” or “are you OK?” Your son or daughter may have good grades, participate in a sport and seem like they have it all together. But underneath they may be dealing with a deep dark pain. They may not know how to reach out to you. Make it easy – reach out first.
Teachers: Former Navarre teacher and track coach Mimi Surratt, who now teaches at Pace, said the loss of D.J. changed the way she interacts with her students. She is making sure she engages and directly asks the questions that might be hard. She asks, “are you OK?” She wants to make sure they know there is an adult in their life that truly cares. She wants the students to know if you need someone, you’ve got someone.
Students: Pay attention to your friends. You know them better than anyone. You are the first line of defense. Ask the question, “are you OK?” Let your friends know they can talk to you if they need to.
Can you imagine the support network our children would have if parents, teachers and students all did this? We have a responsibility in this life to one another. We are on this planet together, we are in this town together, we are in the schools together. We must be better to each other. We must take responsibility for each other. When someone is walking alone, walk beside them. When someone speaks quietly, speak with them. When someone is silently dying inside, wrap your arms around them and don’t let go.
We cannot let one more of our children die at their own hands…silently.