Yellow ribbons for suicide prevention

ALPENA – Alpena High School student Caitlin Borke organized a Suicide Awareness Day at the high school Friday to help encourage students to reach out to those in need. Hundreds of yellow sticky notes with suicide facts written on them were posted on nearly every surface of the commons area to help increase awareness of this rising issue.

Borke first learned about suicide statistics when a friend reached out for help, and since then has taken awareness and the yellow ribbon program at AHS into her own, very capable, hands. With some help from a few staff members, the AHS Key Club and a few close friends, the entire commons was decorated in yellow, and students were being updated through yellow ribbon cards and displays on the signs about the facts and effects of young suicide.

“I surveyed 210 students from different grades and of different genders, and the results were really surprising to me,” Borke said. “Students rated themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, on how depressed they feel. Twenty-five percent of students rated themselves a 7-10. Another 28 percent of students have previously purposefully harmed themselves, and one third of those people have not sought help. Of the total survey, 75 percent of the students knew someone who had harmed themselves.”

These results are not as uncommon as one might think. The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program has been encouraging students since 1994 to seek help with their problems, using the recognized quote “It’s ok to ask for help!”

“The yellow ribbon cards are a cry for help,” counselor Lori Vought said. “The students need to know there are resources available to help them. We try to reach out to students that may need help, and encourage them to get help, but we don’t see everything. We want students to be aware of the signs so they can help us reach out to someone who needs our help.”

According to the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention website, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-24 nationally.

Borke used training she received at a leadership conference to come up with the saying “you have a purpose” for awareness bracelets, hopefully reminding students that they do have a purpose.

“Students can lose sight of their purpose and get caught up in the day to day bad things that happen,” Borke said. “The bracelets will remind them that they do have a purpose and can reach out to those who are in need of help.”

Vought and Borke hope each of the hundreds of sticky notes and bracelets seen around the school will help students to realize if a friend is verbalizing or showing signs of depression or has a problem, they need to encourage them to get help.

“Last spring I heard there were suicide attempts, and then when I came back to school I found out there were already some this year,” Borke said. “People struggle with conditions like depression and oftentimes others don’t understand that it is a condition. It’s a chemical imbalance and it makes things hard for the person affected. I wanted to reinforce that help is there for everyone.”

Awareness and getting help are key aspects of suicide prevention according to Vought.

“Suicide is 100 percent preventable,” she said. “Students are more likely to tell a friend or post about it on facebook than to talk to an adult, and that’s where awareness about available help can really make a difference.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.