When the Light Goes Out

Twin_Peaks_Tunnel-2

“Due to a person struck by a train at 72nd Street, the following trains are in effect…”

I have my headphones on at full blast and yet those words are still able to pierce through the music. All of the muscles in my body immediately tighten. I pause my music, but keep my earbuds in. I hear the conversations going on around me.

“They jumped? How awful.”

“I feel bad but I have to get downtown, this is taking forever…”

My mind drifts and the situation suddenly feels all too familiar.

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It was the fall of 2013, and I was teaching and studying in London, England. I was working as a graduate intern at Northgate School, an alternative educational environment for young people with mental health challenges. The school was set on the grounds of a hospital, and many of the young people were also inpatients. The young people come in all shapes and forms, looking for a safe space that can help them. Most are temporary visitors, seeking solace and strength in order to return to their mainstream education.

Every day brought different challenges; no day could ever be deemed ‘boring’. We often joked that the staff of the small school was either laughing or crying. Emotions were always high and the passion was effervescent in everything we did.

During a school day around mid- October, we received word that a young person had absconded, or ran away. Whenever this happened, you could almost feel the energy change in the air at the school; all of the staff still teaching but anxiety and dread are written into our faces.

The young person had run away in the middle of the night and police were still looking for her. We all just nodded in hearing the news, silently hoping she would be brought back.

She was never brought back. She had ran to the nearest underground station not too far away from the grounds of the hospital. It was in the early hours of the morning so there were only a few passengers waiting for the train. Footage cameras later reported she calmly knelt down and lowered herself onto the tracks. She silently lay on the tracks with a smile on her face. Moments later, a train came.

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Every single time I hear a message about train delays, I think back to that moment four years ago. I think of the seventeen year old young person that we lost, passing just before her eighteenth birthday.

According to DNA Info’s Suicide Rate is on the Rise in NYC, “Suicide rates are on the rise in New York City, especially among women, according to a new study from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The Health Department reported 565 deaths by suicide — or 5.5 deaths per 100,000 New Yorkers — in 2014. That’s up from 448 — or 6.3 deaths — in 2000.” Are we doing enough when it comes to mental health and suicide? Are there enough resources out there? Do we have legislation that serves to protect our mental health, not judge it? Do we know all of the facts?

DNA Info went on to report that, “suicide became less common among young men ages 18 to 24, dropping from 12.6 to 8.6 deaths. Suicide rates among women in the city, on the other hand, have grown.” This information only begs the question, are our transportation professionals equipped to handle mental health challenges? Are we informing our public that mental health is a part of our identity, and not a burden or disease to scoff at? Mental health is still stigmatized in our society, and people are often left without help or support.  

At a time where our country is at odds, and our “leader”  is no more qualified to write a speech than run a country, we are too often driven by hate. This is nothing new to our history books, this country was built on the backbone of racism and sexism just masquerading as the “American Dream.” I urge all of us to become informed, aware, and active. Whether it is about mental health or any other population of people that seems different from the mainstream, speak up and speak out.

If you are feel like you need help, please reach out. Your story is worth being told. You matter.

Lisa Kivell

New York City Public School Teacher

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