Last week, as high school students in my hometown of Chehalis mourned a second death by suicide of one of our community’s teenagers in the last month, a local mom and doctor decided to do something to speak up for life and hope.
She took a stand — literally — by posting herself at the entrance to W.F. West High School as students arrived for the day. She held a sign that read “You are destined for greatness. Today and always, your life matters to me!”
Her actions inspired a letter to the editor and other parents to join that “mystery mom” in holding signs of support and encouragement for students as they drive into school each morning.
When my friend Chris Judd wrote in his letter to the editor about how the signs seem to him to follow the Hippocratic Oath that forms the basis of our medical creed, he didn’t know how right he was.
The “mystery woman” is, in fact, a doctor — Dr. Jennifer Scalici, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology.
But in this case, she’s just a mom, she told me when I met up with her on Monday, her third day out holding a sign. With other parents having been inspired to join up at the front entrance to W.F. West, she moved to the back gate so that students arriving that way could also see a message of support.
On this day, her sign read, “Well now that you’re up, go be the amazing person that you are.”
She said she hopes to be at her post at the school each morning for at least a couple of weeks.
“I am absolutely heartbroken by the recent events and if any kid can get the message that their mental health is important and there are resources available and they do matter, that’s what’s important to me,” she said.
A mother of three, including a W.F. West high schooler, she said she wanted to find a way to send a message that students couldn’t simply scroll past.
“Their brains are still developing and they don’t know you don’t have to believe everything people say about you,” she said. “My one message is the high school years are not the best years of your life. There is so much more beyond that.”
The idea of holding signs of support came to her, she said, at her son’s football game shortly after the second W.F. West student died by suicide, ending his life when it was just beginning.
“Truly it was put on my heart by God,” she told me, taking off her glasses to wipe away tears. “Just the overwhelming sadness of realizing what these kids are missing. They didn’t see what was ahead for them.”
Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 799 children and young adults died by suicide in the state, according to a 2019 Crosscut story. Since then, with the lives of our children knocked askew by the pandemic, there are certainly concerns that those numbers could be worse in months and years ahead.
There is also worry after a death by suicide that memorials to those lost, or a focus on suicide, will lead to a “copycat” effect as the idea permeates in a kind of social contagion. Scalici said she’s aware of these potential concerns and will be responsive to school officials if they have any requests of her.
“What I would want to be contagious is kids taking care of themselves and mental health coming to the forefront along with physical health,” she said.
Scalici said students had come out to thank her and some would come back to take a closer look at the sign that they had noticed out of the corner of their eye as they drove in.
Others students and parents honked their support as they passed.
“If you help one person, your job is done,” Scalici said. “I’m just here to spread joy. I want to give them other thoughts. If you’re having a crummy day, there’s a new day coming. Better days are ahead.”
If you or anyone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24 hours a day.
Or text HOME to 741741 and a live, trained crisis counselor will respond to the text.
Brian Mittge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.