Faces of Recovery: Chesterfield teen uses #UMatterChallenge to take suicide prevention public

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Alex Chaffee is a high school student on a mission to change the way her classmates think about mental illness.

“Personally, I’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts, I’ve attempted, I have had depression and anxiety and everything,” Chaffee says. “So it hit me.”

Chaffee remembers the day she was sitting in a Leader’s Club meeting at the Swift Creek Family YMCA. Anne Moss Rogers of Beacon Tree Foundation came in to speak with the teens.

Anne Moss Rogers brought a suicide prevention discussion to this Leader’s Club meeting at the Swift Creek Family YMCA (Courtesy: Alex Chaffee)

“I want people to know they can get help,” Rogers explains. “That mental health is treatable, that suicide is preventable.”

Rogers got involved with the Foundation about seven years ago to advocate for youth mental health resources.

After Rogers’ son Charles died by suicide in 2015, she created the #UMatterChallenge.

It is a way for people to connect on facebook, instagram and in person to receive support and help for mental health struggles.

“Help create those connections so people feel that sense of belonging and they feel like it’s okay to reach out and ask for help,” explains Rogers. “We want to create some belongingness, and we want to create that society where people are open to talking about it.”

Participants sign up to get alerts or text messages for 14 days. They are reminded to connect with others who may need to hear that someone is thinking of them or wants to get to know them better.

“You want to go outside your comfort zone, invite a new kid to lunch, even give someone a pencil who doesn’t have one because that can mean the world to someone,” Chaffee describes some ways to implement the #UMatterChallenge.

The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, is included in #UMatterChallenge emails and texts for anyone who needs immediate assistance.

“Virginia ranks 46 for youth mental health, and we rank 49th for treating childhood major depression,” says Rogers about the lack of attention the Commonwealth places on this public health issue. “That’s seven out of 10 people that are suffering from depression, children that are not getting the help they need.”

Chaffee brought the #UMatterChallenge to Cosby High School as a pilot program to break stigmas.

“I’ve always had this thing about helping people,” says Chaffee. “But I think when I met Anne Moss, I really zoned in and this is what I want to do to help people.”

Chaffee got some of her classmates involved in recording this video to spread the word that mental illness and suicide are conversations teenagers have to take public.

“We’re so easy to hide things, and people say, ‘Hey, that girl’s smiling. She’s perfectly fine,’ when on the inside, she’s falling apart like a shattered mirror,” says Chaffee. “It’s the strongest thing you can do. Open up to someone about it to try and prove someone wrong. ‘Hey, I’m not weak. I’m strong for speaking up about this.'”

While Chaffee is promoting the #UMatterChallenge among her peers, it is open to people of all ages.

“We’ve done the silence thing for so long, and that hasn’t gotten us very far,” Rogers says about raising awareness about suicide. “Many of them do not want to end their life, they just want to end the pain.”

Follow this link for more information or to sign up about #UMatterChallenge.

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