Posted on: September 11, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Photo by Jacob Leal

By Nick Stulga, Editor-in-Chief

As a kid, Moraine Valley addiction studies student Dennis Kaftan used to run from his problems, but he’s sick of running. He has learned to open up about his family’s experience with multiple deaths by suicide.

“It is very important to talk about any negative thoughts or feelings,” Kaftan said. “This does not show a sign of weakness. My favorite quote is always ‘Give yourself a chance at life.’”

Photo by Jacob Leal
MV addiction studies student Dennis Kaftan opens up during a discussion Wednesday.

Kaftan is one of many people who have watched loved ones suffer and take their own lives. In 2020, nearly 46,000 people died by suicide in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To help address the problem, Moraine Valley held three days of events last week to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Week. Events included a documentary screening on Tuesday, a discussion with counselors on Wednesday, and a workshop about the brain on Thursday.

What should you do if you see signs someone might be suicidal? Counselor Sara Levi, who led Thursday’s workshop, advises first composing yourself and taking a couple deep breaths. Then show them some compassion and let them know things are all right. She says they will pick up on your signaling and feel safe and comforted. 

“They may be more willing to agree to help if you’ve listened carefully to them and they feel heard by you,” Levi said.

The power of listening was demonstrated during Wednesday’s discussion event, which was led by Levi along with counselors Shanya Gray and Teresa Hannon.

A student attending the discussion, who won’t be named for privacy reasons, talked about struggling with a relationship and having a bad week. They had tears in their eyes throughout the discussion, which felt more like a therapy session than anything else.

After the discussion ended, a couple of students went up to the upset student to chat about what was bothering them. The student later visited Levi for help coping and replied to a follow-up text from one of the other students.

“Saw another counselor and got together with a friend recently,” they texted. “I’m more stable now after the week I had.”

Gray, who was one of the leaders of Wednesday’s discussion, says she uses her religious belief to help students get through their struggles. She says it’s the path God chose for her.

“In my personal life, I am a Christian, a person of faith,” Gray said in an interview prior to the events. “And I’ve always looked at the work I do as: God has put me in this person’s life for this time and this place, as a resource for them, to help them in this period.”

The documentary “Each and Every Day” shows teens talking about their experiences with suicidal ideation. Fill out the form at the bottom of this website to get access to the full documentary.

Those struggling with suicidality often need those resources because the amygdala, the part of the brain that picks up on threats and activates the fight-or-flight response, is looking for a solution to respond to those threats.

“Suicidality is kind of a response at the far, far, far end of the spectrum in the continuum from a sympathetic nervous system response to a dorsal vagal nervous system response,” Levi said. “It represents a person who feels in their body they can’t fight off a threat and they can’t find respite.” 

Levi uses an example of a turtle being attacked by a dog to explain. The turtle will pull itself into its shell to avoid being attacked or wait for someone to save it. Similarly, humans will freeze up as an alternate response to fight-or-flight, she says.

“That’s their body’s way of hanging on because right now it feels like all hope for survival is lost and this is my last chance,” Levi said. “It’s that last act of managing and they literally will not be able to pull out by themselves.”

Often after someone has died by suicide, loved ones will say they didn’t see it coming, according to Gray.

“You know consistently they’ve had a really depressed mood and all of a sudden they’re in this really good place,” Gray said. “Something strange is going on. Why are they so happy all of a sudden? You look for behavior that’s odd.

“One of the classic signs is people start giving away stuff. We look for signs that they may be planning something. ‘I’m giving you this, I’m giving you this.’ Or they start writing notes.” Other warning signs are previous attempts or someone giving details about a plan to die.

Photo by Nick Stulga
Students attend MV counselor Sara Levi’s workshop on Thursday, “To See and Be Seen: Suicide Prevention and Crisis Response.”

Gray says people should not be afraid to ask about the warning signs for fear the person will act out on their plan. Asking shows caring.

“Don’t ignore it,” she said. “Don’t think by mentioning suicide you’re putting the idea in somebody’s head because you’re not.”

The documentary “Each and Every Day” was shown on Tuesday. The short film showed teens talking through their past experiences with suicidal ideation. Nine students attended the discussion event on Wednesday, and Levi’s workshop on Thursday had nearly three times the turnout with 25 students. Some went to get 10 points of extra credit, like Kaftan for his addiction studies class, but others went to seek help.

When trying to help others, Levi suggests asking a simple question: “Have things gotten so bad that you’re having any thoughts about suicide?” She says to make sure that you show that you care through the tone of your voice. If they say yes or you feel they are hesitating, Levi says you can dial 988 and talk to a crisis counselor to help.

If they don’t want to call, Levi suggests you talk to a crisis counselor yourself and let the counselor take it from there.

You can also talk with a counselor at Moraine for help. The Counseling and Career Development Center is located on the top floor of the S building, which is attached to the U building (which houses Cafe Moraine). 

“The best thing really is to equip everyone to look at the warning signs and to know how to be able to get themselves and their loved ones help,” Gray said. “The more we get the word out and the more we educate, the easier and more accessible help is, the more we reduce the stigma. I think that is what will help us save lives.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

Here At Moraine

Counseling and Career Development Center (top floor of S building on campus) during open hours at (708) 974-5722

911 or Moraine Valley Police Department at (708) 974 -5555

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Scan to talk to a crisis counselor

988 via phone call or text. You can also chat with a crisis counselor by scanning the QR code, which will take you to

Resources are available for those in crisis, those who may be suicidal, and those who are experiencing substance use and addiction, as well as for mental and emotional distress.

Trinity Services Living Room

A safe space to go during a crisis. Stay safe, get support, and receive a mental health screening and linkage if needed.

Open 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

14315 W. 108th Ave., Suite 222, Orland Park, IL

Contact (708) 981-3370 or email pjohnstone@trinityservices,org