The news of a suicide is absolutely devastating, especially when it’s one of our youths. Nothing is more tragic or heartbreaking than when we are notified that a student has passed away, whether it is due to an illness, an accident or the act of suicide.
As a member of the Thompson School District Board of Education, I work closely with Superintendent Dr. Stan Scheer and our administration team. Everyone’s top priority is the safety and well-being of our students. Our district is constantly striving to provide support for peers, family members and educators, and to get more training implemented for the staff and the whole community.
Although I certainly wish it were different, the truth is that the incident rate of suicide among our youths is not dwindling. It is an issue that is becoming an ever-growing concern, not just in Thompson but also in many other communities across the region and United States. In a time when students have more ways than ever before to communicate — including personal cellphones, text messages and social media — some students still feel an extreme sense of isolation. It is sometimes difficult for them to ask for help and it is also often easy for friends and family members to miss the warning signs of something very serious.
Therefore we must not focus on blame or shame, but rather help and support.
Our school district has taken the lead in the community to educate students and families and staff about the warning signs of suicide and also to provide a robust system of support for families, friends and school communities that have suffered a loss. Here are just a few of the programs that are in place right now to address training, prevention, support and postvention. As the new school year begins, more trainings will be taking place.
Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA):
Thompson School District has seven Youth Mental Health First Aid instructors who offer evidence-based training for adults on how to help a child who might be experiencing a mental health and/or crisis situation. During the 2016-17 school year, the district hosted 12 classes and 250 educators, parents, and community members completed the training.
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST):
This evidence-based, two-day intensive workshop provides practical information and skill building for anyone seeking to learn what to do or say when someone they know or love might be having thoughts of suicide. The interactive program includes lecture, discussion, videos, simulations, and skills practice. Thompson hosted three sessions during the 2016-2017 school year and trained 78 staff and community members.
SafeTALK is an evidence-based 3 ½ -hour workshop that offers skills to help keep people from missing, dismissing and avoiding signs of suicide. Attendees learn how to approach someone they are worried about as well as how to connect them with lifesaving resources. The district sponsored four sessions this past school year and had 80 educators and community members complete the training.
“Signs of Suicide:”
This is an evidence-based universal suicide prevention and school-based depression curriculum that is intended for middle and high school students. This past year the curriculum was taught at all five middle schools, training over 600 students and educators.
“Sources of Strength:”
“Sources of Strength” is an evidence-based prevention program that uses peer leaders to enhance protective factors associated with reducing suicide at the school level. Peer and adult leaders from Berthoud High School were trained in March and TSD is rolling the program out to every high school this fall.
“Thompson CARES Wellness Night:”
The district hosted its second annual Wellness Night in February. A total of five sessions were hosted for adults and three secondary student sessions were also provided. A keynote speaker also presented to the 200 people who attended.
“Supporting our Students – Mental Health Crisis & Suicide Prevention Summit:”
This program was held at Berthoud High School last September and featured a panel of Thompson School District administrators and liaisons from our community partners including Loveland Police Department, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Human Services, Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Heart-Centered Counseling and Pathways Hospice.
Three district protocol demonstrations around suicide prevention were provided to the 60 people in attendance.
The district also works extensively with a variety of local partners to provide support to our communtiy, including Heart-Centered Counseling, McKee Medical Center, the “Imagine Zero” Coalition and the Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Even with all of the programs, protocols and activities detailed above, we realize that the need for more support continues to grow. Thompson School District is fortunate to have been able to apply for and be awarded grant funding to make these programs possible. However, grant funding expires and we are always having to make difficult decisions on what we are able to provide. Our staff is constantly refining programs and methods to educate and support our staff, students, families and community.
To learn more about our district’s efforts and upcoming trainings, I encourage you to visit the Thompson Cares resource page on the TSD website located at www.thompsonschools.org/thompsoncares. You may also connect via the Facebook page (“ThompsonCARES”).
There is still so much more work to be done and a school district can’t go it alone. The challenge to help our youths must be addressed by all stakeholders: our local government, faith community, nonprofit networks, mental health workers, schools, families and friends. As noted above, we have a good start on outreach and training, but we need to keep expanding. Let’s continue to partner and work together as a community.
Most importantly, if you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for assistance. Safe2tell is a 24/7 hotline and website that offers help and the caller can remain anonymous.
Thompson School District Board of Education