by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Receiving a sweet treat wasn’t the only way students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School here were made to feel loved during Suicide Prevention Awareness Week Sept. 5-9. But it might have been one of their favorites.
“They were given a cupcake wrapper,” said Laura Cline, the school’s counselor. “On the inside bottom they wrote what helps them cope when life gets tough — what makes life sweeter for them.”
At the end of the week, each student received a homemade cupcake baked by a parent volunteer.
“I thought getting an actual cupcake would make it more tangible for them and show them that someone cares enough to bake for them,” said Cline.
Cline came up with the idea as a way to give students time to reflect on the good in their everyday lives that helps them cope with difficult situations.
“I wrote down music and my friends,” said junior Mary Essmyer. “I chose these two things because no matter how alone, down or just off I have been feeling, music can always uplift me.”
“It really did make me appreciate how helpful music has been for me throughout my life,” she added.
This COPEcake activity was a bonus to the school’s regular suicide prevention booths where, during lunches, students receive bracelets with the suicide crisis hotline number and other information on them.
It was something completely new for most of the students, and an important factor that played into its success was strong parent involvement.
“Parents responded to this immediately,” said Cline.
Having a caring environment and having involved parents are protective factors against suicidal thoughts.
“I also have very caring students who always step up, get involved and help with the week’s activities,” she said.
But it was the students’ reaction to the project that made all the effort worth it.
“When I received a cupcake on Friday, my day was made,” said Essmyer. “I thought about how many other students would feel.
“I hope each one of them felt uplifted, and I hope they realized that they really were cared about,” she said.
“I think they liked looking at the display of wrappers and seeing the responses,” said Cline. “And they definitely enjoyed getting a cupcake.”
Although the activity was lighthearted, behind it was a deeper and more serious meaning.
“I think it is extremely important for every high school to emphasize the importance of help and show that help is out there for those who are struggling,” said Essmyer.
Cline is hoping activities like this will help students realize there is no shame in their suffering.
“We need to talk about mental health issues to erase the stigma,” she said. “Students need to know that people care and there is help.
“They are not a burden. People care.”