MECHANICSBURG — Five teen suicides in five months was too much for Alexa Moody.
“I was so broken-hearted about it,” she said. “It was devastating.”
While still working toward her degree in human services from Harrisburg Area Community College, the then 19-year-old Mechanicsburg woman launched Please Live, an organization focused on education and awareness about mental health issues.
Now 23, Moody has a vision for the organization that includes bringing its programs to every high school in the area, and creating a nationwide movement.
There’s a stigma associated with mental health issues, so people don’t want to talk about it, Moody said.
“Suicide is the third leading cause of death for students 15-24, and, when you’re a college-age student, it bumps up to the second leading cause of death right behind accidents,” she said. “It’s a huge problem that no one wants to talk about.
The name of the organization is a plea to those contemplating taking their own life. Moody wanted the name to be short enough that people would know what the organization was about just by the name.
“I was really thinking about suicide notes that people leave behind, and whenever someone writes a letter before they attempt to kill themselves or they do,” she said. “I was thinking about what could we say in response to a suicide letter.”
The concise thing that people would say in response is “please live,” she said.
“Please don’t do this. Please get help. Please live. That’s how I came up with the name,” Moody said.
Most of the organization’s work involves education and awareness activities designed to let people know what resources are available to them. One of the biggest reasons people don’t get the help they need is because they don’t know what’s out there, Moody said.
“Teenagers are so confined to what’s in their schools that they don’t realize that there are organizations that are there to help them, and they don’t realize that they are not alone,” she said.
When the organization presents a program at a school or a youth group, it brings along counseling agencies so the students and their parents can make connections.
Moody said it’s vital to the organization that their programs be offered free of charge.
“We do not want schools to turn us away because we are not in their budget. We never want money to get in between students and the help that they need,” she said.
Their choice to maintain free programs will get a boost from having recently received their non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service. Moody said she finally received the letter of approval just last week, capping off a two-year process. Moody worked with an attorney to make sure she had the right wording for the application and had gathered all the right documents. But then, the papers were lost in the mail twice, and the application was delayed by the government shutdown.
Now that the organization has achieved non-profit status, Moody said it will be able to do more fundraisers and apply for grants. It will also develop a resource packet that can be sent out to teachers to alert them to Please Live’s programs and to the mental health services available to their students.
“A lot of doors have opened up to us that we can now start really getting into schools,” she said. “Before the status, we were doing a lot of awareness. A lot of schools and youth groups were hesitant to bring us in because we were not officially a non-profit.”
Moody said programs are catered to what the school wants. The organization can do a large, lecture-style presentation, or it can put together a mental health fair. It is also available for parent-teacher organizations or for an add-on to a drug and alcohol program.
Moody remembers her first presentation in front of a youth group of about 300 students. After her talk, she met a teenage girl who shared her story of depression and anxiety. Moody said she gave her some hope that she’s not alone. The two kept in touch, and the teen is doing well now.
“I’m blown away because she’s just grown so much. Her journey through recovery has been hard, but she’s making it,” Moody said. “She tells me all the time that me, personally, and also Please Live has been such a consistent support in her life that she wouldn’t be where she is today.”
About 15 organizations have partnered with Please Live for a May 18 event at Palmyra Church of the Brethren. Planning for the event, “Make a mark for Mark,” started in January, the month after the young man committed suicide. Moody said she was contacted by both the church and the young man’s family, who didn’t want that tragedy to happen to anyone ever again.
“If there’s any other hurting students in Palmyra, we want to touch them, and we want to let them know that they don’t have to get to this point,” Moody said. “There are people who love them and there is help available.”
Please Live also engages in teacher education, and would like to create a program to pay for training so that teachers and parents can be certified in mental health first aid. Moody said mental health first aid is similar to standard first in that it is designed to help the average individual respond to a mental health crisis until professionals can be involved.
As the president of the organization, Moody spends time coordinating events, working on the organization’s social media, networking and researching agencies in the local area that can provide the help the students need. Typically, she reaches out to them with a letter, and many of them are supportive and excited to see someone so young be so active, she said.
Most of the members of the board of Please Live are also in their twenties, which helps make their programs more effective.
“We vividly remember how awful high school was. We vividly remember the stress of college, and many of us have struggled with mental illnesses ourselves so we know what it’s like to desire health and we know what it’s like to feel alone,” Moody said.
Moody would like to see the organization grow to host an event at least every other year in every high school in the area. That would give every student two chances to hear the message of Please Live, she said.
“I would love to see Please Live chapters pop up all over the United States. Every chapter would focus on their local community resources, and being able to really specialize in the community that their in,” Moody said.
Schools and youth groups interested in hosting a Please Live event can contact the group through its website, pleaselive.org.