CW: This article discusses suicide. If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can find other crisis services as well as local resources here.
“Look at you — glowing like a solar fire. You’re something special. You’re going to rattle the stars, you are!”
This quote sits at the top of the “about” page for Rattle the Stars, a C-U nonprofit that provides suicide prevention services to the community. It comes from the Disney movie Treasure Planet, a movie which Kim Bryan’s son Sam deemed “the most underrated Disney movie.” Sam, a Centennial grad and Parkland student, took his own life in 2016. Rattle the Stars was born out of a realization that there were so many others in the community struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, and not enough understanding of how to help. For Bryan, the meaning behind the quote is twofold:
It’s for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. We want people to know that they are special, that they are important, that they have an impact on the world just by being here. We, unfortunately, understand what happens when that person is gone, and how much that affects all the people they knew in their community.
For other people, we want them to know that when we’re talking about suicide prevention, it doesn’t have to be a big huge expensive time consuming effort. If you want to change the world, it’s just connecting with the one person you know...if you can support that one person, then you are changing the world for a lot of other people.
As an organization, Rattle the Stars is about more than preventing deaths. They want to promote the idea of emotional wellness throughout the community. Bryan says that so much of suicide prevention is actually intervention, when you’ve identified someone with suicidal thoughts and interrupt the action they may take. She’d rather it not get to that point, instead looking at the root issues that are causing distress in people’s lives. She points to a new law just signed by Governor Pritzker — giving students five excused mental health days each school year — to illustrate the concept.
A lot of people praise this as a really wonderful thing, that students can have these excused days when they’re feeling overwhelmed and feeling stressed...but if students need mental health days, then that tells us there is too much stress. Too much pressure. They are not able to cope with what is happening in their lives. So is the answer to give them time off school for mental health days, or is the answer to prevent that distress that leads to them needing mental health days.
Bryan wants to address those issues, to acknowledge and understand why there is a high rate of suicidal thoughts in youth, in veterans, in LGBTQ communities. “We want to look at the factors that are causing distress [in these groups] and eliminate those.”
Part of suicide awareness is also addressing the many misconceptions that we have about suicide, and who is susceptible. Bryan emphasizes that not all instances of suicide and suicidal ideation are connected to mental illness. While clinical depression is a factor for some, it’s not a factor for all. She also points out that this issue is not one that affects only people of a certain race, or age, or economic status, or personality. It can affect the outgoing kid with supportive parents as much as the loner. It can affect the middle class or wealthy adult as much as one who is struggling financially. Bryan also points to a misconception that this is a white people problem, when data from school surveys has shown that Black and Latino students have higher prevalence of suicidal thoughts.
There are also misconceptions around the idea of “means safety”. Means safety is trying to reduce suicide death by restricting access to lethal means: locking up guns, medication, etc. There’s a belief amongst some that if someone really wants to take their life, they will find a way. According to Bryan, there is substantial evidence disproving that thought. “People, for various reasons, gravitate towards one particular method...accessibility is part of that.” The debate surrounding gun laws often doesn’t include gun deaths by suicide, when laws involving waiting periods and safe storage are very effective for suicide prevention.
September is Suicide Awareness Month, and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week. On Friday, Rattle the Stars will be hosting their annual fundraiser, a walk to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention and the services they provide to the community. Rattle the Stars is very focused on education and training. They work with individuals, groups, businesses, and organizations to develop suicide prevention strategies and plans. All of the donations they receive through this week’s fundraiser will go directly to helping people in our community.
The walk will begin at 6 p.m. at Centennial Park. It’s an opportunity to connect with others who have been impacted by suicide, or to just support those who have. You don’t have to raise money or donate to participate, but if you do, you can go to the Rattle the Stars website and set up a personal or team donation page, or just donate to the cause. The one mile walk will go around the park, then end with a candlelight vigil. If you would like to participate virtually, you can do a one mile walk where you are, post on social media using the hashtag #WalkToPreventSuicide and tag Rattle the Stars. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you are invited to share a photo and message for a memorial video, to be shown at the event. Learn more about how to do that here.