A transformative experience gripped San Clemente High School students this fall when Kristi Hugstad stood in front of them, relating how her husband had ended his life in 2012 – suicide by train.
The students in six ninth-grade health classes were riveted, learning how the Dana Point resident had managed to overcome her despair to become a grief counselor, public speaker and author.
Hugstad’s first book, “What I Wish I’d Known,” was the guide she had searched for but couldn’t find, she said, while struggling to process her husband’s death. It offers 10 tools she developed to help her through her “grief journey.”
She then offered a gift to each student in class: a copy of her new book, “R U OK? Teen Depression & Suicide,” which came out in April (Dog Ear Publishing).
It was theirs to keep, courtesy of an anonymous million-dollar donor in San Juan Capistrano whose family had been touched by teen depression and suicide, the second-leading cause of death among teens in the United States, according to Hugstad.
The donor, Hugstad said, was stirred by the book’s message and wanted it shared with as many people as possible to try to reduce teen suicide in Orange County and nationwide.
The $1 million donation allows 100,000 copies of “R U OK?” to be shipped to schools, youth organizations, recovery centers and hospitals. The book costs about $10 online.
“Most organizations don’t have the budget to afford this valuable resource,” Hugstad said. “My book includes discussion questions for teachers to use as a lesson plan and help start conversations about depression and suicide. I also send my ‘R U OK?’ PowerPoint presentation to help teachers communicate the information in my book.”
At San Clemente High School, teachers Angela Tisdale and John Dowell distributed books. In class, Hugstad discussed warning signs, and asked students with any concerns to talk to an adult they trust.
“About 10 students stayed after to speak with me,” she said. The teachers summoned Susan Parmalee, director of San Clemente High’s Wellness and Prevention Center.
“I was able to pass the baton,” Hugstad said. “I thought, this is helping save lives.”