Archive for Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hutchinson teen’s suicide prompts Facebook group

June 8, 2011

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— The suicide of a 17-year-old Hutchinson High School junior in April blindsided many people — from Chris Sullivan's grieving parents and siblings to his church family, wrestling teammates and coaches.

The news caused a ripple effect, even jolting those who didn't personally know Chris.

Brett Goetz was one of those people.

"I didn't know Chris, but it affected my entire family," Goetz said. His younger brother Shane was one of Sullivan's best friends.

A recent graduate of Kansas State University, with goals set to one day become a physician's assistant, Goetz decided to do something to help prevent such a thing from happening to other young people.

He has created "Sullivan's Salvation," a Facebook group that currently has more than 4,000 members. He named it after Chris as a tribute. The goal is to help end teen suicide via community action projects.

"We are trying to target people who feel down on life, or anyone who has had a loss, anyone who is at risk," Goetz said.

Although Sullivan's family has been public about his use of the synthetic drug potpourri, and that he most likely was hallucinating at the moment he decided to take his life, they support what Goetz is doing.

With the sudden loss of someone who filled their days, the Sullivans might find comfort networking with others who are hurting, broken or in need, Goetz hopes.

The group's objective is to develop and lead service projects and establish a sense of belonging and accomplishment through the projects. He envisions groups heading off to help clean up tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., or working to build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

Goetz says through social networking there will be a way for people to not only communicate, but to find more meaning in their lives by helping others.

"Action is a great healer for people," said Richard Archer, clinical director of Hutchinson's Horizons Mental Health Center. While Archer is not familiar with Sullivan's Salvation, he says it is exactly what studies have proven to help depressed people. When those with low energy become active, they produce more energy.

"Use the Y, volunteer with a project helping others," Archer said. "It can be marvelous."

Andy Addis, pastor of Crosspoint Church, joined Sullivan's Salvation because he believes social networking opens many doors. If someone is crying out for help, it would be a great advantage to see it there and take the next step.

"A lot of people in the community are connected with Facebook," Addis said, noting that Sullivan's Salvation has become active. He has been watching the discussion. One person posted that Sullivan's Salvation was a great idea because they had suffered from depression at one point and something like the Facebook group would have helped them through it, Addis said.

Addis said the group can be proactive and when someone reaches out, instead of just praying for them, take steps to do more.

"As a culture and a church community we need to respond to the fact that the world has become a social network. We are responsible to help those who need help," Addis said.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 54 Kansas youths 17 or younger committed suicide between 2005 and 2009. In 2010, a 17-year-old boy who was in foster care in Hutchison and had threatened suicide on a previous occasion, was sent for treatment and returned home and hanged himself. In a preliminary report for 2011, John Tracy, investigator for the coroner and the Reno County District Attorney, said there have been six suicides, with one being a youth.

After forming the group, Goetz applied for a grant through Pepsi, which funds community ideas. The grant was declined for June, but he was encouraged to apply again in July. Once accepted by Pepsi, grants are awarded based on the number of votes online at www.refresheverything.com.

"Chris would have jumped at this," Jenny Sullivan said.

She appreciates the teens reaching out to each other and giving something back to the community. She believes youths need more to do in Hutchinson, to keep them from experimenting with drugs. Had it not been for the potpourri, which produces an instant high causing a person to do things he can't remember doing, she believes Chris would be alive today.

"No one saw it coming," said John Sullivan, Chris' father. "There was no depression, no signs. It's a hard, crushing thing."

Now, six weeks later, he recalled a son who would run over and help older people leaving church on Sunday mornings.

"That was Chris," John Sullivan said. "He was all light."

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