CPS adopts suicide prevention policy

Alyssa Sykuta

Sophomore Maribeth Eiken woke up Oct. 3, 2009 in a broken world. Eiken’s brother and a former RBHS football player, Stuart Eiken, had been found hanging by the neck at a water pumping station near McBaine in an apparent act of suicide.
“It seemed that a whole bunch of people knew [that Stuart had passed away] before I did,” Eiken said. “It was definitely a big blow because, you know, you’re really young, and you expect [a sibling] to be there your whole life. It’s just like when your parents tell you that your brother did something awful. You don’t know how to react.”
Sophomores Haley Benson and Chandler Randol were barely teenagers when they heard the news of Stuart Eiken’s death. A year later, when assigned a project in government at West Junior High School, his suicide and the news of a local woman’s jump from a Columbia parking garage inspired them to take action.
“It started last year when we did Project Citizen, which we did with a group [of four other students],” Benson said. “We decided as our group thing to study suicide and create a new curriculum for schools to follow.”
Columbia Public Schools personnel are aware of the rise in teen suicides nationwide since 2003. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death in Americans between ages 10 and 24. A startling 6.9 of every 100,000 teens between ages 15 and 19 died from suicide using methods such as self-induced poisoning, asphyxiation or use of firearms, according to an additional study in 2007 by the NIMH.
Because of such statistics, CPS sets aside 50 minutes each year to talk with students about topics such as bullying, depression and suicide. However, the Project Citizen group decided the amount of time allotted by the district was not getting the point across.
Benson hopes more time on the subject will encourage students to speak out, lowering the suicide rate.
“It’s hard to understand how someone who is struggling with that feels because they’re so trapped inside their own mind that they don’t see who all really cares for them and who really wants to be there for them,” Benson said, “They don’t think that anyone will understand, but people do understand; if you just start talking, your friends will listen.”
After coping with the death of her brother two years ago, Eiken attests to the miraculous effect of support from peers. The love she received helped her through the grief.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t really know how to feel,” Eiken said. “It’s just a tragedy that you can’t explain. … At first it was really hard, but then I had all these people around me that loved me, and everything kind of just started falling into place. For somebody who is coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide … it’s very hard because you sit there and you wonder, ‘I could have done something different. I probably could’ve saved them.’”
Although Eiken recognizes there is nothing she could have done to save her brother, she needed a helping hand to rescue her from the pain.
“If someone’s coping with a suicide, people around them — they need support,” Eiken urged. “And whoever is going through the tragic situation, just hold on because it’s always better when things calm down and you can breathe and look back and live.”