My name is Caitlin Elizabeth Thomas. I am a pretty average 24-year-old who has led a pretty average life. I grew up in an amazing family, with good parents and three great siblings. I have gone to college, worked different jobs, dated a few boys, all things that normal people do. But, there is one thing that I do think is abnormal about me: I have an absolute passion about spreading awareness in mental health education and suicide prevention.
This passion came about when I was 22. At the time, I was serving a religious mission for my church in the Philippines. I had limited contact with my family, and could only email them once a week. I was about a year into my 18-month service when I began to detect something was wrong. My family's emails grew shorter, and my little sister quit writing me all together. I could feel in my heart that something was wrong. After a few months of asking, my parents decided to tell me what had been going on. I remember feeling utterly numb and helpless as I read the email where my mom explained that my little sister had attempted suicide, and had spent the last few weeks in a hospital. "She is doing better now," she said, "but we have a long road to recovery." Up until that point I hadn't felt the sting of suicide, but this moment was enough to light a fire within me and I knew what I needed to do.
I came home in December of 2014 and saw the hardships my family had endured. My sister was stronger, but still recovering. I hugged her fiercely and told her I loved her. I had never been more grateful to see her in my entire life. A few days later, I told her I wanted to run for Miss Lehi and have a platform on suicide prevention. She told me she would help me. My family also got on board and the Choose To Live initiative began.
I won the pageant the following June and took on the role of Miss Lehi 2015. I dedicated the next year of my life working to educate myself and others on suicide prevention. I met with some amazing families who had lost loved ones to suicide. I learned from them, and cried with them. I attended training's that taught me about mental health and the signs to look for. I tried to take that training and educate others. I developed a great amount of empathy for others. I used social media to spread stories and messages of hope with others. I began to know and believe in the stigmas that surrounded mental health and worked to try and defeat them. I gained so much experience, and really worked to help others. I wanted to help people find reasons why they choose to live and share that with others.
My year as Miss Lehi came to an end, but the Choose to Live initiative did not. I still try and help people find hope in a world that is increasingly telling all of us that we aren't enough. I have also become more self aware and more comfortable with my own challenges. I have struggled with an eating disorder and depression throughout my life, but have now gained the strength to get the help needed to cope. Everyday is an on going battle, and some days the demons are dark, but I try to hold onto the light as best as I can. I try to find ways to serve others so that I can forget about myself for awhile. I talk to people I can trust. I look for the clarity and hope that is surrounding me. It can be difficult, but it's possible.
I am no longer Miss Lehi, but mental health awareness and suicide prevention is still my passion. Suicide is a tough issue to discuss, but it's so incredibly important. It is currently the second leading cause of death among teenagers and college aged adults in the United States. Four out of five people who die from suicide show clear warning signs. These deaths can be avoided if we all get involved, and there are things we can all do to help.
There is so much we can do to get involved and help others, but the first step is education. Talk with someone who is struggling with a mental health diagnosis and learn what their life is like. Become educated on the signs of suicide and strive to help someone who may be struggling. But, most importantly, the best thing we can do is work to be kind to one another. There is so much power in simply smiling at someone, or asking them how their day was. We can all work to withhold judgement against someone and spreading gossip. We can strive to first gain understanding about someone without fighting back, and accepting people for who they are. We can all help in the fight against suicide by becoming more aware, and helping those around us when they struggle. But, most importantly, we can all be a little better at trying to be a little kinder.
If you, or anyone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or just need someone to talk to please call the anonymous hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741.