Clover High School student Malaki Prescott was 15 years old when he took his own life on Jan. 29.
Malaki had battled depression and mental illness for years, said Lynn Jones, his mother.
“I never want another parent to feel the kind of pain you feel when you lose a child that you carried inside of you,” Jones said.
Jones said her son tried therapy and medication, and Malaki had started spending more time with his family and friends.
“We actually thought he was getting better,” she said.
Jones said she thought Malaki spending time in his room was normal teenage behavior.
“I thought it was normal, but it was really a cry for help,” Jones said.
The Sunday night before he killed himself, Malaki spent time with his family. Monday morning, Jones found her son and the suicide letter he left behind.
Malaki wrote ‘spread my love,’ Jones said. Now, Jones, along with other parents, community members and Malaki’s friends, are using his last message to encourage mental health awareness and education in schools.
“I can’t let him die in vain,” Jones said. “Kids, I’m not sure why they are in the darkness but they are. This mental illness is not going to go away. It’s not something you can brush under the rug. This is very serious and very real and kids need help.”
Jones said they hope to teach students, parents, teachers and others about mental illness.
“This has to be a group effort,” she said. “This isn’t just one person’s problem, this is our future, the kids are.”
Jones spoke with Clover school board members and administration during the Feb. 26 board meeting.
“Our youth is in the dark and unless we educate them and give them the tools, how are they going to learn how to deal with these emotions,” Jones said. “I don’t ever want another parent to feel the way I feel. I don’t want any siblings to feel the way my kids feel.”
Clover High School Principal Rod Ruth said Clover the district encourages talking with students about mental illness awareness. He said the school will expand mental health education covered in health classes that are required for high school students.
The school also is working with outside agencies such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness to lead classes alongside teachers, Ruth said.
“We’re giving more exposure to students about these topics,” he said.
Clover Superintendent Marc Sosne said the district a few years ago increased the number of social workers and psychologists serving school families from three to five at each school.
“It’s probably still not enough, but we are trying to add those resources,” Sosne said during the board meeting. “We will do better.”
Sosne said Jones and her family aren’t alone.
“What this family has experienced, many families in our community are experiencing, at least the early signs of it,” Sosne said. “Administrators are seeing more children who are depressed, who are having difficulties when they come to school.
“It’s not a school problem, it’s not a community problem, it’s everybody’s problem.”
Nationally, suicide rates among teenage boys and girls have steadily risen since 2007, according to . 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In South Carolina, suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10-14, and the third leading cause of death for people ages 15-24, according to Alexandra Karydi, director of the state’s Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative at the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
Beth Wilson, therapist and owner of Thrive Family Services in Clover, said school administrators, teachers, students and parents should be taught how to recognize mental illness and what to say to a struggling student.
“Sometimes mentally and emotionally we have a deficiency and because of that mental illnesses can develop,” Wilson said. “Mental illness is real, and it’s a true illness.”
She said education needs to include different types of mental illnesses.
“There are so many mental health disorders that I’ve even heard students say ‘how do I know I’m suffering,’” Wilson said. “It is important for education to be gotten for these kids. I’m not going to put full responsibility on the schools because it is a parent’s role and it is mental health agencies and communities that can spread that also. It’s all of us working together.”
Wilson said signs to watch for include if students’ grades are dropping, they are staying in their room more often or they are acting outside of their normal behavior. She said parents and friends need to not be afraid to ask tough questions, such as if they are thinking of hurting themselves.
“Be very open and transparent with one another to take away that stigma,” Wilson said. “Those people that deal with mental illness are brave. They are strong and they don’t know what to do and that’s where the education needs to comes in. We all need to be more aware of what’s going on.”
Jones said she hopes to see change.
“I’m hopeful as a community we can provide for our children that are crying out in desperate need,” Jones said during the Feb. 26 meeting. “I never want to see another child die from being stuck in the darkness.”
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082