Weighing on the heart of youth motivational speaker and author Jeff Yalden is the issue of teen suicide. He has grieved with so many families over more than two decades, yet with each devastating loss, the heartache and pain – the very idea of trying to be a source of hope and comfort – only compounds the sobering realization that teen suicide epidemic continues to grow. He recently recalled visiting South Nodaway High School in Barnard, Mo., just weeks after 16-year-old Baylee Hilsabeck made the forever decision to end her own life. “The first thing you notice walking through a school this size in a community this small is that you are not walking into a school – you are walking into a home. This is family,” he said. The fact that there were only 84 kids in the building made it painfully obvious to Yalden how much a tragic loss like this could rock the students and the general community. He remembered coming in for a day of counseling, humbled by the privilege and opportunity to be a source of hope to the community. “Let’s be honest: We are all a mess – and that is common ground. We must come together and pick each other up,” he said. “We come from different backgrounds – raised in different homes – but over the past 25 years of doing this, it doesn’t change that we need each other.” The problem is not going away. “More and more teenagers and adults are making momentary decisions that have a lasting impact. The forever decision is often made without thought.” The fact that many teachers and counselors said that Baylee was probably the most popular junior in her class proves that suicide does not discriminate. Her grandfather also committed suicide, and the two were very close. Nobody will ever know what prompted her to take her life, but there is some speculation that part of this might have had to do with health issues. “Baylee had a disease that was a little bit debilitating, but she learned how to deal with it. She had a great personality – vibrant and ornery,” Yalden said. “You couldn’t help but to love her, they say.” Yalden sat down with her mom and dad, read the suicide letter and saw Baylee’s bedroom. He also saw Baylee’s scrapbook at school, and helped her fellow students clean out her locker – a poignant moment, but one which gave these young people a sense of closure. At the family home, Yalden was hit with a realization. “For the first time in my life, I think I’d come to realize that not all suicides are a selfish individual act, and there’s so much more to explain how I feel about this situation – but Baylee knew what she was doing. It was a combination of many things, and I think Baylee was just really, really tired.” Yalden’s takeaway from visiting Barnard was moving. “My team and I got to witness laughter and joy as we shared the hope and knowledge to make this event a catalyst for change in the future,” he said. “Baylee was a very special young lady that touched a lot of hearts and changed a lot of lives.” To find out more about Jeff’s youth programs and suicide prevention workshops, click HERE. To order a copy of Jeff’s new book, BOOM! One Word to Instantly Inspire Action, Deliver Rewards, and Positively Affect Your Life Every Day, go HERE. Book Jeff now for your school, event or organization by calling 800-948-9289.
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