School curriculum examines mental health and suicide prevention


Teigan Avery speaks warmly of his father, saying whoever received his phone call knew he was there for at least an hour of conversation. But after his death, she asks the question: what would have happened if he had called someone the day he decided to kill himself?

“But how would we know? We can’t be blamed for not knowing he was in crisis, it was up to my dad to call us…Anyone he talked to would have told him that life was hitting him right now, but this wouldn’t always be like this,” Avery said Wednesday night in a packed auditorium at Glacier High School.

“And maybe when my dad killed himself, he thought that would solve his problems, and it might solve our problems as well,” she added. “But because he didn’t make that call, he left a legacy of some of the biggest issues my family has ever faced.”

Avery’s father, Glacier High School guidance counselor Jerad Avery, died by suicide in late 2019. Avery shared his experience dealing with his father’s suicide and his own mental health struggles at the conference on school characters, which made a return for the first time since early 2019.

Glacier head football coach and teacher Grady Bennett and Kalispell Middle School teacher Noah Couser also spoke during the evening. The theme of the evening “Fighting for our lives, in a time of anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicide”, aimed to reach people struggling with their mental health and offer concrete ways to get through difficult times. of their lives without looking back. to suicide.

Montana has the third highest suicide rate in the nation, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Seven teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 died by suicide in the Flathead Valley between May 2020 and September 2021, the Daily Inter Lake reported in late September, and a teenager from Bigfork took his own life shortly after.

AVERY TOOK the scene showing vulnerability by describing her life leading up to her father’s suicide and what happened after. Before the tragic event, she was already facing her own battles.

In 2018, she was going through a “transitional summer” in her life. She had just gone through a breakup when she started a strict diet and started working out constantly. It was during a routine medical appointment around this time that a lump in her throat was discovered. She soon discovered that she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, despite successful surgery to remove it, the cancer had already moved into her lymph nodes. At 20, she never expected to have cancer.

“I felt out of control – I didn’t trust my body, I didn’t trust my destiny,” she said. “But I decided to believe that if I could just work hard enough to be fit and in control of my well-being, if I could be perfect, then the cancer wouldn’t come back. I kept it all inside, this fear I had for myself.

After criticizing two people who were close to her, she realized she needed help and started meeting with a counsellor, and quickly saw improvements in her mental health – defying a narrative in her head that she wasn’t good enough and making an effort to speak to herself more nicely.

Then a year after his cancer diagnosis, his father committed suicide.

“I miss my dad everyday. I try to figure out why he did it; why did this beloved, flawed man, who worked here as a counselor, why did he decide his best option was suicide?” Avery.

She said that although he is no longer there, her relationship with her father continues to grow and evolve as she continually chooses to forgive him. She spoke about post-traumatic growth, or PTG, a concept describing the positive psychological change experienced as a result of struggling with highly stressful life circumstances.

“The idea is that you can have something really difficult in your life and grow out of it. You decide if you’re going to embrace those smacks of life or use them as an opportunity to surprise yourself – to react and grow,” she said.

HE SAYS has a reputation for being the ‘every day is a big day’ at school, football coach and Glacier High teacher Grady Bennett says he tried to convey to his students that perspective is powerful and that they can combat their negative outlook on themselves and life.

He says he didn’t always understand how someone could lose hope to the point where life wasn’t worth living. Then, one night, his 29-year-old wife confessed to him that she had been having an affair. After the confession, she packed up and left forever.

“The deep emotional and psychological pain that comes from trauma in life is real. Psychological studies say the most painful thing a person can face is the death of a child, and top of the list is the discovery of an unfaithful spouse,” Bennett said.

What followed was one of the most difficult times of his life – experiencing emotions and thoughts he had never imagined having before and feeling like there were no options. to continue. He felt like a fraud for a community that felt unable to deal with its students and players.

He started a journal called “the fight of my life”, writing in it daily.

“It took me a week, but I came back and faced my football team. I had planned a great speech, but all I could do was stand in front of them and cry. The words that came out of my mouth were: ‘men, I’m in the fight of my life and I need you,'” he said.

The experience led Bennett to two strategies which he shared with the audience at the event.

The first is to “tell yourself the truth”, that is, to block out negative self-talk and speak positively. As Bennett said, strategy students joined him on stage holding up signs with positive affirmations saying “my life is precious” and “I was born on purpose, with a purpose for a purpose.”

The second strategy is “Victory comes through vulnerability”. To demonstrate that students helped him lift hundreds of pounds to visually demonstrate how much easier it is to face the things that overwhelm us in life when we have the help of those around us.

SUCH has changed in the world since the last character conference in early 2019, said Noah Couser, event founder and physical education teacher at Kalispell Middle School, adding that a mental health crisis in the Valley cannot be solved by a simple 10-step program.

“There is no quick fix, but I know that if each of us here is committed to fighting for mental health in our homes, in our community, in our homes, in our schools and above all in ourselves ourselves, we will see changes in this valley,” Courser said.

He encouraged the students at the event to live their lives with purpose – to raise friends who need support and be an agent of change in their school. He said it can be more beneficial to experience hardship and learn how to cope.

“People in your life need you, the truth is suicide doesn’t end the pain, it amplifies it. It spreads to everyone in your life,” he said. Please know that you are not alone, pain is not prejudiced. We have all been through difficult days and united in the fight.

The entire 2022 Character Talk is set to be uploaded to Couser’s Youtube channel on Sunday at youtube.com/c/NoahCouser. A short film related to the conference is also available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa7D68hjQqE

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montana has local mental health resources listed on its website for Flathead County. If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.