Local middle schooler organizes suicide prevention concert

Charlie Shea, 13, is an eighth-grader at Henley Middle School. For an English project, she’s organizing Celebrate Yourself at the Southern on March 18 to benefit the Suicide Prevention Awareness and Resource Council. Photo by Eze Amos Charlie Shea, 13, is an eighth-grader at Henley Middle School. For an English project, she’s organizing Celebrate Yourself at the Southern on March 18 to benefit the Suicide Prevention Awareness and Resource Council. Photo by Eze Amos

On Charlie Shea’s first day of middle school two years ago, she received some words of wisdom from her father, Danny Shea. “My dad told me, ‘It’s going to suck. I’m just going to brief you,’” Shea remembers. In the past two years, she says she experienced “enough bad days to go around,” as well as fellow students who would say anything to make someone feel worse, good friends and “‘good friends’ in quotations.”

“Society makes us feel like we need to paint this picture like we’re all perfect—perfect bodies and perfect grades,” says Shea. “We’re all wound so tight to the point that it’s stressful.”

Shea found a support system through her teachers at Henley Middle School and through her love of music. She sings and plays the guitar, ukulele, piano and drums, and likes “old music” like David Bowie and Queen. She says Beyoncé—“my idol”—always lifts her up. Growing up surrounded by the “awesome, badass, fun people” in the Charlottesville music industry, Shea believes in the power of music to spread positivity.

Shea’s English teacher, Elizabeth Sweatman, recently challenged her students to identify a world issue and try to do something about it. One day later, Shea knew she wanted to manage and host a concert advocating for two issues she’s always felt passionate about—suicide awareness and prevention, and removing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“I hear about [these issues] so much and see how horrible they are,” says Shea, who has seen many of her peers affected by stress, anxiety and depression. “There needs to be a call to action, to stop being so scared of it. When someone hears the scary S-word, no one wants to talk about it.”

On Sunday, she takes the stage at the Southern as emcee alongside Sally Rose for the Celebrate Yourself show benefiting the Suicide Prevention Awareness and Resource Council. The council is part of Region Ten and provides suicide awareness education and training, mental health resources and other health and wellness efforts like the annual SPARC of Hope Walk/Run in October.

Joining Rose and Shea in the lineup are local acts 14 Stories and Unintended Consequences, both comprised of students from Western Albemarle High School, and Nahlj Corbin and Sarah Gross, who are two soloists from the Music Resource Center. Between sets, Shea and Rose will perform together.

Gross, a freshman at William Monroe High School in Greene County, plays acoustic and electric guitar, and recently performed her original song “Yellow Sweater” at the MRC’s album release party. It’s a raw, honest acoustic piece that showcases Gross’ vocals and storytelling capabilities. She is excited to perform on a stage bigger than anything she’s played on before, and to be doing so for Shea’s cause.

“I personally have known friends with depression and anxiety, and wouldn’t want anyone in that situation to not have access to help when they need it,” says Gross.

Shea’s father says the experience of coordinating an entire show has been empowering for his daughter. As a talent buyer for Starr Hill Presents and Red Light Management, Danny Shea didn’t want to make the experience easy for her.

“If we [at the Southern] do anything, it has to be viable. It’s the same for anyone that pitches a show,” Danny says. “We want to do something that reinforces the fabric of what is good about our community.”

Lori Wood, Region Ten’s Director of Prevention, Outpatient and Crisis Services for Youth, calls Shea a “go-getter.”

“When I heard about [her], I was like, ‘Wow, look at this!’” Wood remembers. She’s grateful to collaborate with students like Shea in city and county schools to increase access to mental health resources, legislation and training.

It’s that wow factor that has brought Shea the most joy throughout her project.

“I love seeing people’s reactions,” says Shea. “They’re like, ‘What? You’re putting together a concert? You’re 13. How can you do that? Something’s not right here. You’re a child.’”

Peer support

The National Institute of Mental Health offers the following steps you can take when someone is contemplating suicide.

Ask them: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question
but studies show that asking at-risk individuals does not increase suicides.

Keep them safe: Reducing access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention.

Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling.

Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Stay connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference.

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