Survivor dedicated to stopping others |

Survivor dedicated to stopping others

Just days after she turned 21 years old, Grass Valley resident Heather Nowacki put a .38 special underneath her chin and pulled the trigger.

What happened next was not the suicide she intended, but rather, the rebirth of a life that had been backed into a corner. Nowacki, 25, told her story this week at the Nevada County Suicide Prevention Summit.

“I had no intention of surviving, but I did,” Nowacki said.

She was flown to Sutter Rosevile Medical Center, where she stayed six weeks after brain surgery.

She realized she could use her experience to help others and now is speaking at schools and gatherings. Nevada County’s suicide rate was 15.8 per 100,000 in 2004, compared with a statewide rate of 9.7 per 100,000 the same year, according the Nevada County Community Leadership Institute. (see related story).

Nowacki realized she was suffering from depression while growing up in a small Oregon town and facing ridicule as a teenager.

“High school is not kind,” Nowacki said. “Teenagers are tough on each other.”

She turned to the self-medication of drugs and alcohol and managed to slide under her teachers’ radar with a 3.8 grade average. Now she wishes more awareness had existed for teens like her.

“In small high schools, people are just written off as weird and they end up being me with a serious drinking problem,” Nowacki said.

She had also fallen in love for the first time and “realized I was gay.” The high school would not allow a Gay Straight Alliance Club such as the one at Nevada Union High School. It was another blow.

Nowacki is now attending Sierra College. “I still have problems, but I have hope,” she said.

“My message to high schoolers is that it does get better,” she added. “If it can get better for me, it can get better for anyone. It gets better for everyone after high school because people grow up.”

Nowacki urged young people to talk with their friends, parents and support groups if they are troubled.

“Now I know how many resources are out there, but back then, I thought there was none,” Nowacki said. “We need to be sensitive to all kinds of people because depression can happen to anyone regardless of their social class and sexual orientation, from the Cleavers to the slums.”


To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call 477-4237.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is feeling low, depressed or even remotely thinking about suicide, you can turn to numerous places for knowledge and help. Here are some:

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


• Nevada County 24-hour Crisis Line


• Suicide Prevention Resource Center

• Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network – California

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