Mukilteo family works to increase suicide awareness

September is Suicide Awareness Month in the U.S.
By Brandon Gustafson | Sep 05, 2019
Courtesy of: Dawn Krivanek A memorial for Nina Smiljanic at the 2018 Out of the Darkness Everett Walk.

It’s been nearly three years since Nina Smiljanic took her life.

Nina was 15 when she killed herself, and she would have graduated from high school this June.

“It was a bad June (this year),” Nina’s mother, Dawn Krivanek said. “It would have been her 18th birthday and Kamiak had its graduation.”

While nothing can replace the hole Nina’s death left in their hearts, her family is working to raise more awareness for suicide and depression.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and Krivanek met with The Beacon in hopes of bringing more suicide and mental health awareness to the Mukilteo community.

Coming up in October, for instance, is the Out of the Darkness Everett Walk, which serves as a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

“Our family has been in the walk the last three years,” Krivanek said. “My oldest daughter did the first walk just two weeks after Nina passed. She told the rest of us about it, and now the whole family does it. We also have lots of family and friends who participate, too”

Having that large group helps with the healing process, Krivanek said.

“It’s comforting to know people still acknowledge Nina,” she said. “It helps keep her memory alive. We’re seeing more people knowing about the event, and there’s more discussion about mental health and suicide.”

Awareness, Krivanek said, is the key to reducing the number of deaths by suicide.

“People need to have mental health as big as a priority as their physical health. Maybe even bigger,” she said. “We don’t talk to kids about mental health and feelings when there’s nothing wrong with talking about it.

“We have to work at getting rid of the stigma behind it.”

The AFSP, which Krivanek’s husband, Nina’s stepfather, is a board member of, has been making strides in starting conversations with young people about suicide and mental health issues, Krivanek said. The foundation lobbies with lawmakers for certain changes, raises money for scientific research, and provides aid and resources to those affected by suicide.

While Krivanek loves the work AFSP does in education, she feels more can be done earlier on.

“I have a concern that they’re aiming it for the high school and college students,” she said. “Our daughter, she was suffering in elementary school. Teachers need to be able to know the signs and communicate with parents so we can help our kids.”

Per ASFP, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and in 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide, and more than 1.4 million Americans attempted suicide.

In Washington state, it was the eighth leading cause of death in 2019, and was the second leading cause of death for ages 15-24.

With school starting this week, as well as September being National Suicide Awareness Month, Krivanek wants parents, loved ones, and friends to really listen to kids talk about what they’re going through.

“Part of listening is watching physical movements,” she said. “It’s impossible to be in touch with children and all family members on everything, but we need to be there for them.”

Krivanek said Nina was the family clown, always smiling and joking. She said she’s heard many similar stories from others who’ve had a family member or friend die by suicide.

“People thought of her as the happy, smiling one. There are covers,” Krivanek said. “We really need to be getting into the deeper conversations. The ‘real’ conversations.

“Those conversations need to be had. You have to continue checking in, then you can help them.”

Krivanek said she and her family did a lot of research when Nina came to them saying that she was depressed and having trouble.

“There’s so much information online, and we thought we were doing the right things,” she said. “There were questionnaires she filled out, she got on medication, and she was seeing a therapist. She was having really bad social anxiety. There’s a lot of layers to what happened.

“It was a process, and unfortunately with Nina, that process started when she was in a very dark place.”

 

Resources

There are a number of resources available for those wanting to learn more about suicide awareness, as well as emergency lines for those who need it.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24/7, and is free and confidential.

AFSP’s website is afsp.org. The site has resources, assists with finding support, and much more.

The Snohomish Health District also has a number of resources available online at snohd.org/200/Suicide-Prevention.

Snohomish County has a crisis services center, which includes resources and contact information at snohomishcountywa.gov/604/Snohomish-County-Crisis-Services.

Mukilteo School District schools all have counselors available to talk to students. Each school’s counseling directory, with contact information, is available online.

 

 

 

Nina Smiljanic was 15 when she committed suicide in 2016. She would have turned 18 and graduated from Kamiak High School in June. (Courtesy of: Dawn Krivanek)
Team Nina is a group started by Nina Smiljanic’s mother, Dawn Krivanek, to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The group participates in the Out of the Darkness Everett Walk, and will do so again Oct. 12.
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