By Rich Suwanski
Owensboro and Daviess County middle school and high school officials and students are receiving suicide prevention information this month from trained specialists.
State law requires such training in the first month of school for public schools, and Mike Flaherty, the chairman of the Owensboro Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, is helping coordinate the sessions with the two school systems.
Principals, teachers and counselors are to receive a two-hour course while students will be instructed in a shorter class.
“This is a real strong step in destigmatizing mental health issues, and gives young people information about this problem early on so they can be part of the solution,” Flaherty said. “This is a positive.”
Flaherty works with assistant coordinators at each the city and county’s middle and high schools, tailoring the message to each group, if need be.
“The program is not in the elementary schools because those students are low-risk for suicide completion,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty said instruction includes the signs and symptoms of depression.
“Depression is a strong warning sign,” Flaherty said. “A large number of people who died by suicide also have co-existing clinical depression.
“Substance abuse by a person who has had a loss of a family member by suicide puts them in a very high-risk category, especially (if the young person) has made a previous attempt at suicide.”
Warning signs include a change in sleep or appetite, a drastic decrease in performance or interest in things a student used to like, such as quitting a team or withdrawing from friends.
“There’s no definitive test or cluster of symptoms that indicates a person would be suicidal,” Flaherty said. “They’re just risk factors, and the more significant the risk factors, the higher the chances.”
Flaherty said letters are also sent home to parents to “get them involved” so they know what to look for.
Summer Bell, the student assistance coordinator with Owensboro Public Schools and a licensed social worker, said OPS has a crisis plan in place in case a suicide attempt occurs.
“We talk about what to do if a friend is expressing thoughts of suicide,” Bell said. “(A student) may do it on social media or by texting, and that could be a tough position for a friend to be in. Do you keep it a secret?”
“We tell them to tell a trusted adult. We’ve got cards for students with phone numbers for guidance counselors and the crisis line so they can use them after hours if they need to.”
The local suicide prevention crisis line is 684-9466. The national number is 1-800-273-8255. Information is also available on the schools’ websites.
Rich Suwanski, 691-7315, or [email protected]
Friday, August 30, 2013; Copyright: The Messenger-Inquirer