Megan LaPlante (right) speaks during the June 23 Issues That Matter forum at Snohomish Library. Listening are Rena Fitzgerald (left) and Dr. Gary Goldbaum. Photo gallery
It was the end of an eighth-grade choir field trip and Megan LaPlante and her friend were braiding each other’s hair.
“They were laughing, just girls being girls,” said Megan’s mom, Susan LaPlante.
Hours later, the friend took her own life.
It wasn’t until the next morning at school that Megan and her classmates learned about the suicide.
“I got a call from Megan about 8:15 in the morning. It was awful,” Susan LaPlante said. “She couldn’t speak; just sobbing.”
Three more Issues That Matter forums on teen suicide are scheduled:
All events start at 6:30 p.m. They are open and free to the public with funding provided by the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation. The forums feature panels of experts and community members to discuss what can be done about teen suicide.
Library research resources
A year later, the loss still feels fresh, but Megan is working to turn tragedy into something that may help others. A freshman at Monroe High School, Megan is also Miss Washington High School America and will compete for the national title, July 15-16 in San Antonio, Texas.
As part of the pageant, each contestant is required to have an advocacy platform, something that they not only feel passionately about, but are also supporting with their time and voice. After losing her friend in 2015, Megan decided her platform would be “Preventing Teen Suicide through Hope and Awareness.”
It wasn’t an easy choice.
“Megan wasn’t sure,” Susan LaPlante said. “It’s so personal and so difficult. We talked about it a lot. I told her, ‘You need to talk about it for yourself. And, it can help others.’”
While she’ll be taking the message to the national stage, Megan’s first opportunity to speak publically on the subject came June 23 at Sno-Isle Libraries’ Issues That Matter forum on teen suicide at Snohomish Library. She will speak at similar forums on July 7 in Stanwood and July 21 in Oak Harbor.
At the Snohomish event, the public packed the meeting room. Megan was on the panel with two experts on the issue, Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Director of the Snohomish Health District, and Rena Fitzgerald, manager of the Care Crisis Chat line at Volunteers of America Western Washington in Everett.
When it was her turn to speak, Megan’s voice was charged with emotion.
“It’s such a big issue, but not a lot of people know about it,” Megan said later. “People don’t touch on it. Parents don’t learn about this and kids die. They don’t know, but they should know about this.”
The path to suicide, why some choose it and others don’t, can be difficult to understand. From Megan’s perspective, one important thing to do is just be there for someone who reaches out.
“If they’ve opened up to you, they are trusting you and thinking you will do something and possibly stop it,” Megan said. “Just hang out as much as possible and make them feel loved and welcome because they are, they really are.
“There are things that you can do. Say, ‘Come on over,’ or ‘Go to a movie with me.’ And if they say, ‘Leave me alone,’ tell them, ‘No, you’re hurting, I’m staying with you.’”
Part of Megan’s platform is to work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The organization works with local supporters to sponsor Out of the Darkness Walks to raise funds for suicide prevention work. Fellow panelist Fitzgerald and Denise Bathurst, a Mukilteo School District counselor, are organizing a walk for Oct. 15 at Legion Park in Everett.
While choosing to speak about teen suicide wasn’t easy for Megan, the response at the Issues That Matter Forum convinced her that it was the right choice.
“A girl came up to me after it was over to say how much it helped,” Megan said.
Susan LaPlante had a similar experience with a parent.
“The father of a boy who died in April came up and said Megan’s comments were so relevant. It was very confirming,” Susan LaPlante said. “That night was amazing.”