Teens open up about mental health, suicide

ANNANDALE, Va. — Last year, two students from the same Fairfax County school — Langley High — killed themselves in the same week.

Monday night, suicide was one of the topics as students and parents from all around Northern Virginia gathered for a Teen-to-Teen Mental Health Summit on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

Westfield High School graduate Ethan Kalcheff, now 20, says at one point, he felt so hopeless that he decided to die.

Hanna Hunt, 18, a Langley High student, has struggled with panic attacks and urges people to make sure loved ones know you care. “Because you have no idea who’s suffering, but there are people all around you that are.” (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

“One day it just hit me that that was the day I wanted to do it. So I had one of those pullup bars that you put in a door frame. I put it in the door frame in my closet; I hung a belt from it and just looked at it for I don’t know how long. It felt like forever. I didn’t do it; I didn’t even put myself in, but I didn’t lose the thought that I wanted to.”

Not long after, by posting a video on YouTube and inviting responses, he learned many other people had problems similar to his.

“It’s probably what saved my life — to know that I wasn’t alone in that situation,” he said.

He was one of six former high school students from Fairfax County who spoke at the event organized by the Josh Anderson Foundation.

The mental-health education and teen-suicide prevention organization is named for a 17-year-old who took his own life in 2009. Josh’s sister Lauren Anderson is executive director.

Allison Rayberg, an 18-year-old senior at Annandale High, suffers from anxiety and fear. She says last year, she was close to committing suicide.

“On one of the snow days — I wasn’t wearing warm clothes; it was freezing out there — I went out to a set of train tracks near my house and I just stood on top of them and I waited for a train to come. I waited — it must have been two hours, just standing there in the cold, thinking about how much I hated my life and how much people had hurt me.”

She eventually called a friend to come pick her up.

Chris Bennett attended, but never graduated from, Langley High. He says his depression led to substance abuse starting in eighth grade.

“I was introduced to a bottle of alcohol and some weed and my entire life changed. From that moment on, I had a solution to the way that I felt. What happened … from a National Honor Society student, three-sport athlete, looking at playing Division One athletics, I ended up basically in Anacostia, D.C., trying to rob drug dealers and ending up in handcuffs.”

Bennett is now 30 and sober, but there was a time he contemplated killing himself.

“I got to a point, and literally I remember it as clear as day, where my two options were that I can pull out a handgun and I can put it in my mouth and I can pull the trigger, or I can finally, for the first time in my life, ask other people for help.”

Langley High senior Hanna Hunt, 18, who has struggled with panic attacks, urged everyone to make sure loved ones know you care.

“Because you have no idea who’s suffering, but there are people all around you that are,” she said.

If you or someone you know needs help for mental health problems, a list of resources is on the Josh Anderson Foundation website.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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