Now more than ever, teens are experiencing suicidal tendencies after being confronted with peer-pressure, slanderous comments and constant depression. Although most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide, two local girls have made it their prerogative to keep the youth safe through their suicide prevention and awareness program—Be a Friend.
Patterson High senior Veronica Pulido and Vanessa Cuellar of the Youth Action Commission first came up with the idea while they were discussing depression and other suicidal symptoms over the phone in June of 2013.
“We’ve both gone through struggles and have experienced our darkest time or lowest moment,” said Veronica. “Everyone has been through a time in their life when they are so upset they think the only way to escape is through suicide.”
Social media has also led the public to believe that suicide is the answer, as most youth are able to patrol the internet without a filter.
“One day, I was watching inspirational videos on YouTube,” added Vanessa. “Under the links, they started to suggest other videos, and I noticed that they all turned into suicide videos. There is one titled ‘The Bridge,’ and it’s about how the Golden Gate Bridge has the highest number of suicides than any other place in the world. It made me upset. Even though I was feeling low, I realized there were others who’ve felt worse—worse enough to end everything.”
Although the girls have experienced similar tendencies or situations within their own life, they relied on one another and worked together to solve their personal issues.
“There have been times when I’ve felt alone, but when I met Vanessa, I realized that someone loved me,” said Veronica. “I didn’t feel depressed anymore because we had each other. Things are not as hard to deal with when you have someone to lean on.”
In an attempt to curb the youth from experiencing suicidal tendencies within the Patterson community, the girls decided to become certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid. The skills they received were designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, and school staff and peers how to help an adolescent who is expecting a mental health crisis.
The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.
The girls are also certified by QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer), a three-step program that learns how to recognize the warning signs of suicide and how to question, persuade and refer someone to receive help.
Veronica and Vanessa have also started an activity known as the Random Act of Kindness. Once a week, members of Be a Friend are encouraged to do a random act of kindness, whether that be handing out lollipops to the public, sacrificing time for others or helping out with community endeavors.
Other activities include writing their struggles down on a balloon and releasing it into the air as a symbol of “letting the bad things go.”
Despite their trials and certifications, Veronica and Vanessa still face a small backlash from a few students they’ve presented to. But the number of disbelievers is steadily declining since the program’s initial inception.
Vanessa and Veronica have since presented their program to the city of Patterson at a council meeting, where they received special recognition and support from Mayor Luis Molina.
Within the last year, the girls have also become heroes to many young students—so much so that one third-grader wants to start her own Be a Friend campaign at her school in Ceres. Chapters are also expected to begin in San Jose, San Diego and Washington State in the near future.
Vernoica and Vanessa have started selling customized t-shirts and hats as well and hope to garner more funds for future events and field trips for the local youth.
“It’s nice to know that we are making a difference in the community,” said Vanessa. “We just want to restore faith in humanity.”
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Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org.