Teens, parents talk about suicide, bullying - Catholic Courier

Teens, parents talk about suicide, bullying

FAIRPORT — After watching a movie that illustrated depression, bullying and teen suicide, Youth Minister Michelle Hunzek shared a message of love for teens in crisis.


"You are loved by your parents, you are loved by this church, and you are loved by God overall, and if you are down and depressed, know that you are loved," said Hunzek, who spoke to a room full of teens and parents at St. John of Rochester Parish.

Following the Oct. 3 screening of the movie "To Save a Life," which details the aftermath of a teen’s suicide, more than 300 teens and parents from churches in Fairport, Penfield and Perinton separated into small groups to discuss the film, which touches on topics including teen pregnancy and abortion, teen drinking, self-mutilation, and school shootings.

Hunzek told one small group that she encourages teens in crisis to call her at any time if they need someone to listen, and she noted that several teens contemplating suicide have called her. Hunzek said the movie also is timely because during the past four years, nine Fairport teenagers have lost their lives through accidents, suicides or other tragedies.

Hunzek first learned about the movie at the National Catholic Youth Conference and later suggested a screening to fellow youth ministers who make up the ecumenical Eastside Youth Workers, a group that includes the Catholic churches of St. John of Rochester in Fairport, St. Joseph in Penfield and Church of the Resurrection in Fairport.

"The Eastside Youth Workers decided that we needed to do something about showing the movie, and this is a perfect space for it," Hunzek said of St. John of Rochester.

She said parents were invited to attend the event so that they could hear directly from teens about the issues that they are facing — and provide a voice of experience and encouragement for those teens going through a difficult time. Counselors from several agencies also attended the event to offer support for those who needed it.

Afterwards, most teens interviewed said they found the movie compelling. Matt Bayer, 15, a sophomore at McQuaid Jesuit, said although he found some of the movie tugged at reality, the main character, Jake, rang true. Jake is a popular athlete whose world is rocked when his former best friend, Roger, commits suicide. Roger’s death leads Jake to question his friends and his choices, and ultimately leads him to get involved in a church youth group and pull away from his former friends.

"He had everything going for him, and he was able to tell that that wasn’t what he wanted, and being popular wasn’t what he wanted," Matt said.

Matt’s brother, Nick, said the movie accurately portrayed high school.

"There definitely are kids who are all alone, and people who have no one to turn to," said Nick, 17, a senior at McQuaid.

One parent, Hope Vogel, said that as a teacher she has witnessed and dealt with hurtful bullying similar to what had been described in the film.

"I can’t tell you the numbers of times I’ve said, ‘What would you think if someone did that to you?’" she said.

Hope and her husband, John, noted that they have found cliques become irrelevant in the years after high school.

"I just want to tell high-school students that it’s terrible, but just get through it," John Vogel said.

"Nobody remembers what group you are in (after high school)," Hope Vogel added.

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