Plant High School teen on a mission to help raise awareness about suicide prevention

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Emily Surak is a junior at Plant High School. She’s also Miss Central Florida’s Outstanding Teen and she’s on a mission to help her peers feel outstanding, even when they’ve hit rock bottom.

“I really want to bring suicide awareness into my school and my community because it’s not talked about,” she says.

Maybe not in schools, but as soon as the hit show “13 Reasons Why” debuted on Netflix, it was the talk of the teens.

“She’s had friends struggle so I went to her and asked, have you been watching this show?” says he mom, Nancy Surak.

Emily had been watching. Nancy says she and her husband have an open, healthy relationship with their children and just wanted to be sure this show wasn’t affecting them in a negative way.

“People were saying how great it was, but I just thought it was really bad for people who are struggling with mental health,” says Emily.

Even though Emily has always been mentally stable, her mom noticed a difference after she watched the show, claiming, “she was in a pretty dark place.”

Dr. Stacie Scheckner of Tampa talks extensively with people struggling with depression. “I think the biggest thing parents can do is just listen,” says Dr. Scheckner.

She’s also noticed many teens are turning to each other for help. “I think that’s what peers do. They listen. Where as parents might say well why didn’t you do this or why didn’t you do that?” she goes on to say.

That’s what Emily has come to find. “Kids are talking about it and talking to their friends because they feel more comfortable talking to their friends.”

She’s now working as a volunteer at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and urging her school to get more involved.

“I did talk to the principal last year and he told me that they would have suicide mentors coming in and training the teachers to help them and make them more aware of the signs and how to handle it,” says Emily.

Many school systems have programs in place for how administration is to handle these tough issues. For instance, according to their website, Hillsborough County Public Schools have a 5-step intervention policy they use to treat students who show signs of depression or appear to be at risk for harming themselves.


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