• Lynda Cohen

Ocean City vigil looks to shed light on mental health, those lost to suicide

Marina Salugta knows firsthand the mental struggles many teens face. The Ocean City High School senior lost one of her close friends sophomore year, when he took his own life. Kevin Potter was among several young Ocean City lives lost to suicide who were honored Wednesday with a candlelight vigil at the Ocean City Tabernacle Youth Center. The vigil also was meant to raise awareness about mental health, especially among young people. About 200 people attended the event.

“I communicate with many teenagers from several schools and I am told the same thing over and over again, nobody actually listens or actually cares,” said Earl Potter, a retired state trooper and Kevin’s father. Kevin was just 16 when he took his life June 10, 2018. The sophomore “had a smile that just wouldn’t quit,” his father said. He showed no signs of depression. He had just gotten his dream ATV and was working on his dream truck when he left home to go check the mud on the trails and see if the bass were out. While Earl Potter will never understand why his son died, he is working to make sure other teens have someone who will listen. “Kids have told me that I have helped them more than any professional counselor or way more than school support,” he said. “At first I really found this so hard to believe. How is this even possible with all the talk of mental health out there? However, upon seeing it myself time and time again it is actually true these kids only get a small amount of help just enough to appease them at the moment.” Salugta, 18, is hoping to help change that. She plans to eventually study social work at Stockton University. “I want to be a child protective services case manager,” she said. Salugta has suffered from anxiety most of her life, and knows she has been lucky to have friends who understand, and can talk about “the ugly” like depression and other mental issues. “I would love to get to know people who need the extra love my friends and I can give,” she said. “We’ve seen firsthand how suicide and mental illness and mental health can destroy a person and everyone who that person had an impact on. I come from a family who will help and take in anyone they can, so I grew up learning to give extra love always, no matter who the person.”

Salugta and her friends, including David Jefferson, have made fliers that give encouragement and offer phone lines for help. “Don’t be scared to ask for help, we all need it at times in our lives,” it reads. “I promise you, the world will not be as beautiful without you here.” “It’s not my friends and I that could make a difference,” Jefferson wrote in a Facebook post sharing news on Wednesday’s vigils, "it’s all of us who can.” “Friends and family never want their loved ones who have been lost to ever be forgotten,” Earl Potter said. “Not a day goes by that family and friends forget about their loved ones and how we wish they were still here. As this epidemic (suicide) is spreading and taking more and more of our youth, it is so important to bring awareness to the forefront. At the same time, we live the memories of our loved ones.”

Editor's note: This story originally ran Feb. 25. It has been updated with video from the event.


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