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Principal Pens Must-Read Letter After Community Member Dies by Suicide

When Nicholas Pratico, a freshman at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, died by suicide, a principal at a nearby Catholic school published a letter on Facebook addressing the tragedy directly. Although Pratico wasn’t a student where the principal, Jason Briggs, works, his school is less than four miles away from the community college Pratico attended.

Briggs wrote in the letter, which he posted on his school’s Facebook page on Wednesday, that while he can’t guess what was going on in Pratico’s mind at the time of his death, “the issue deserves a deeper examination, if for no other reason than to allow the passing of this young man to open a conversation that will prevent the loss of others in our school family.”

Explaining that mental health should be taken seriously and that we need to be more comfortable talking about it at school, he wrote:

Mental illnesses, essentially any sort of behavioral or brain-based afflictions, are just as real as the physical type. We cannot see them, just as we cannot see the wind. The effects are quite real, just as the invisible wind can really blow down a tree… Why do we feel perfectly fine in reporting a urinary tract infection, but not an episode of extreme depression?

He then continued on to highlight what he called, “three important steps to addressing brain-based afflictions:”

Stop giving silent affirmation to the stigmatization of mental illnesses and afflictions:

Do not equate a clean closet with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Stop using Bipolar disorder as an insult. Never use schizophrenia as slur when someone provokes a verbal fight. Do not liken the result of drinking too much caffeine to generalized anxiety disorder. Cut. It. Out. Our words reveal much about how we think about things.

Take the warning signs seriously:

If you suspect that someone you care about, especially a child, exhibits signs of a mental illness or affliction, do something about it. Face this challenge in the name of the great love and concern that you have for the person, and work to see a professional. I know that procuring mental healthcare is a much more daunting task than procuring physical healthcare for many people. Crisis centers can be nightmares. Insurance companies can be difficult to work with. Many of the best practitioners do not accept insurance, though some very high quality ones do. Do not rest until you get what you need for who you need it.

Be aware of risk factors for depression, anxiety disorders and suicide:

People who suffer from depression are not necessarily ‘goth-looking’… They are often people who struggle with high pressure or internal conflict. Risk factors include high pressure in school (honor students!), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, impulsivity, identity issues, substance abuse, and social isolation. How often do we learn of a suicide, which is immediately followed by a list of wonderful things that the person ‘had going for them?’ That is, ‘How could she be driven to suicide when she was a three-sport athlete in high school, just graduated from an elite college, and had a fine fiancĂ©?’ The reality is that mental illnesses and afflictions cross socio-economic, racial, cultural, and all other types of barriers.

Half of individuals living with mental illness start experiencing symptoms by the age of 14. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, this number jumps to 75 percent by the age of 24. Considering 1,000 college students die by suicide each year, it’s never too early to let students who feel suicidal know they’re not alone, and that help is out there.

Thank you, Principal Briggs, for talking about mental health in such a candid way. We hope more educators follow in your footsteps.

You can read the entire letter here.

The Mighty reached out to Principal Briggs, and has yet to hear back. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.