The suicide prevention display at Fonda-Fultonville High School doesn’t look like much at first. It’s just a paper banner hung on the tile wall with over 400 printed yellow ribbons taped in place.
But read the caption on the banner and the image gains power.
Seventeen-year-old Danielle Clifford, who spearheaded the display, explains the significance of the banner.
Each ribbon represents 10 people ages 15 to 24 who take their own lives in New York each year.
“We had to make each ribbon represent ten lives, because we never could have fit 4,371 ribbons on one poster,” she said.
To put the number in perspective, the caption points out the number of young adult suicides statewide is 10 times the high school population of Fonda-Fultonville.
Clifford is a founding member of the school’s fledgling mental health advocacy group, which she started this year with the help of her mother Darlene, guidance counselor Deana Lenz and Renee Carr of the local Mental Health Association.
In addition to the poster, they placed yellow ribbon cards in each student’s agenda. The agenda is a type of day planner given to students at the start of the year. Students can give their card to a teacher as a silent request for help.
“Students might seek help if they could find the words,” Carr said. “The cards are for the ones who can’t.”
While Lenz said Fonda-Fultonville is a small, high-testing rural school and thus statistically at low risk of student suicide, she pointed out that all students face problems.
“High school is a difficult period of time,” she said. “Kids are not only very busy, they’re trying to figure out who they are as people.”
Each month they plan to put together displays or events to highlight a different aspect of mental health. October, for example, will be “Positive Attitude Month.”
The project originated a few years ago when Clifford approached Lenz, looking to set up safeTALK suicide prevention training for students at the school.
It was part of Clifford’s Girl Scout gold award project. Five students were trained on how to get help for a friend in crisis, and Clifford has since received her award.
Her continued work with the school and Mental Health Association reflects a deeper motivation.
“My parents took in foster children when I was growing up,” she said. “I’ve seen the need for this kind of help.”
Since the age of 10 Clifford has wanted to be a psychiatrist. She achknowledges that all extracurriculars, especially those in her prospective field, will help her get into a good college, but considering her excellent GPA and role in the National Honor Society, she doesn’t really need help.
“This is about creating lasting change,” she said.
Clifford will graduate at the end of the year and go off to one of the 13 colleges she toured over the last few months.
Right now she’s the only student in the mental health advocacy group, which by nature should be a student organization. When she leaves, it could dissolve if she doesn’t find a few younger students willing to fill her shoes.
“Students are very busy,” Lenz said. “It’s hard to ask them to commit to doing something like this every month.”
The group plans instead to integrate other school organizations. Clifford is president of the Key Club and is working to merge the two groups.
They’re also looking to bring in student athletics. For example, the football team could help with positive attitude month, as their game hinges on having a good outlook.
With integration, the small group hopes to do a lot of mental health good with a little help from everyone.
“I want to come back here in a few years and have this work continuing,” Clifford said.
The suicide prevention display will be visible at the school’s parent-teacher open house this evening.