Deseret News hosts discussion on anxiety to halt teen suicide

Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson speaks while “Angst” panelists Jenny Howe, Karen Gornick and Jay Mcfarland look on. (Jennifer Ball)

There is a grief that wafts through the city of Herriman.

Less than a month ago, 17-year-old Nicholas Swint took his life. His was the seventh suicide by a Herriman High School student in the past year.

Public meetings have been held to address the situation. Grief counselors have gotten involved with the school. But the rash of suicides has left a permanent, aching hole in the community.

More than 250 community members gathered on May 30 at Fort Herriman Middle School to open dialogue about clinical anxiety, a significant risk factor for suicide. The event, sponsored by Deseret News, included a screening of IndieFlix film “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” and a panel discussion about the mental health challenges facing today’s youth. Over the next year, Deseret News will explore why anxiety and depression rates are on the rise among Utah teenagers and will search for solutions from national experts.

“I know you’re hurting,” said Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson, who hosted the screening. “But we have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”

While attention is often roused at the incidence of a suicide, Matheson said, attention can also be focused earlier on depression and anxiety when there is still the opportunity to help someone.

“It’s not just a tragedy at the end; it’s also a tragedy when a person is unable to share their talents and abilities because of their faltering mental health,” he said.

Jenny Howe, a panelist and advising therapist to “Angst,” agreed and suggested that interventions begin as early as possible.

“We often miss the boat in elementary school,” Howe said, noting that drop-out rates become significant in sixth grade.

Karen Gornick, a producer of “Angst,” came up with the concept of the film while struggling to find a residential treatment center to help her son with his anxiety. Her goal of the film: to ensure that viewers know they are not alone.

That is why the film is available to be licensed only for public screenings. “We don’t want people to just hear that they’re not alone,” Gornick said. “We want them to be in a community setting so that they can feel it.”

Jay Mcfarland, a host of KSL Newsradio and a panelist at the event, said learning this lesson saved his life. His personal history of crippling social anxiety at one point led him down a road where he planned his suicide.

“But I opened my mouth,” Mcfarland said. “And in reaching out, I learned that I didn’t have to fight alone.”

Mcfarland said he still struggles with anxiety. Even today he won’t get on an elevator unless it’s empty and will wait until everybody else leaves a public restroom to wash his hands. But he’s able to address the matter publicly, and he said talking about it helps immensely.

“There’s a culture within the church that we need to be perfect,” he said. “And we live in a society where we believe that religion cures all ails. I’m sorry, but those are lies. Reach outside of yourself. Talk about it publicly. Stop pretending that we’re perfect, because nobody is.”

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