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Former Northeast Ohio teacher's message on suicide going viral, and it's an important one

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Posted at 11:21 PM, Jan 21, 2022

CLEVELAND — As an English teacher for more than 20 years, Carol Ann Eastman knows more than anyone that words and a message can change a life.

She taught at Hoover and Buckeye High School, and at the end of every school year, she had a speech for her students that carried the most important message she could ever teach.

“I started giving my suicide speech because I taught freshmen the book ‘All But My Life’ by Gerda Weissmann Klein. It's a Holocaust survivor book,” Eastman said. “She says in the end of that memoir, ‘In all of the times I was in a concentration camp, I never knew of one person who committed suicide.’”

The sentence hit her hard.

“As soon as I read the words in that book, that she had never known of anyone that committed suicide, I was like ‘You know what? I’m going to get raw. I’m going to get honest and I’m going to tell the truth,’” she said.

The truth was that Eastman suspected there may be students in her classes who were struggling, just as she did when she was in high school and college.

“All of my students always saw me as happy-go-lucky, bubbly, Mrs. Eastman. She's always smiling. She's so fun. They needed to know that I, too, went through dark times and I too suffered in my life, and I too had those same thoughts,” she said.

Every year the "suicide speech" affected at least one student, which was enough for her to continue the message year after year.

“Every year I would get a letter or a note or a message that said, ‘Mrs. Eastman, I didn't commit suicide because of you.’”

Eastman moved to South Carolina and retired from teaching, but she never retired her mission for saving lives.

In 2018, upon hearing about six students at Perry Local Schools committed suicide in 5 months, she took to Facebook to give her suicide speech not just to her students, but to whoever needed to hear it.

In it, she talks about how every life is precious and if one of her own students took their own life it would affect her for the rest of her life, and she’s "#justanenglishteacher."

“I’m just the English teacher and it is destroying me,” she said in the video. “I went to a dark place in my twenties, a very dark place, and I tell my students this – they need to know this. I had thoughts, scary thoughts and I made plans. I had to talk myself out of it because it was dark and it was scary.”

In the video, she also talks about how much better her life gets and how she would’ve never known the joy it can bring if she ended her life during that dark time.

The video, even then, racked up the views.

“I was getting messages from people in Europe, Africa, Uruguay,” she said. “I was answering private messages. They were coming in by the hundreds and thousands of people reaching out to me.”

But lately, the video of her speech and her hashtag "just an English teacher" has resurfaced. Now, more than 600,000 people have watched it.

“Everybody's hidden behind a camera or keyboard. No one's opening up, no one's communicating, and somebody has to take the reins and make sure that people have someone they could talk to,” she said.

It may be resurfacing because there’s an even bigger need to hear her words as the pandemic continues to take a toll on mental health. According to the CDC, the number of ER visits for suicide attempts, specifically in girls aged 12-17, is up 51% from 2019 to 2021.

Chard´é Hollins is the behavioral health prevention specialist at Cuyahoga County ADAMHS Board.

“We want to make sure that we are providing our young people with as much prevention, education and support as possible so that we can decrease those emergency room visits,” said Hollins.

Hollins said the pandemic has caused more suicide ideation due to increased anxiety, depression and isolation.

“The best way in order to prevent something from happening is to make sure that there is some type of support system and when we think about the pandemic, what was taken away from a lot of people? Support systems,” she said. “What you have are people who no longer have access in the way that they were most used to that support system, which can cause them to feel alienated and isolated.”

Hollins said it is so important to have an open dialogue with our kids and check in on their mental health, just as you would their physical health.

“You want to look for if they're isolating themselves, if they have a change in their behavior, if their behavior increases and becomes a little bit more hyper than usual, as well as if it decreases and they become more mellow than usual,” she said.

Eastman hopes if there’s a message people get from her video, it’s that their life matters and life is made up of good and bad moments.

“Life is precious. Those dark, dark times will have the counterpoint. They will be bright and so bright, and you will not believe how magical and wonderful your life can be. You just have to hold on and trust it,” she said.

To find a list of local, state and national resources on suicide prevention and awareness just head here.