Keep talking

It’s hard to talk about suicide, but that’s exactly what communities must do if they want to help prevent future ones, especially ones involving middle-school age students.
Saturday’s story (Page A1) about an 11-year-old Findlay boy who took his own life in March should get the conversation started. The details of the death aren’t important, nor is trying to assign blame. But the community should learn from it.
Youth suicide has become an all-too-frequent occurrence.
It is the third-leading cause of death among 15-to 24-year-olds, and the fourth-leading cause of death in children between age 10 and 14.
In Ohio, there were nine suicides by people between the ages of 5 and 14, and 201 suicides by people between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2011.
Findlay City Schools knew the student was at risk, but Superintendent Dean Wittwer said the district could only do so much to intervene.
In Ohio, suicide prevention falls under a portion of the law that requires school districts to keep students safe from a number of dangers. A district is required to develop its own curriculum then use it to help train school employees in safety, and prevention of suicides, bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence.
Whenever a student is considered at risk, the student’s parents are contacted and asked to have the child evaluated. It’s the parents, not the schools, who are responsible for getting further assistance.
The child who died was among a “group of kids” at Bigelow Hill thought to be at risk. In September, Principal Pam Hamlin told the school board a counselor had heard of multiple suicide threats in the school and at Northview Primary School, which feeds students into Bigelow Hill.
A news story about the board meeting was the community’s wake-up call.
While the state offers limited suicide prevention guidance to schools, it does require teachers and administrators to complete four hours of safety and suicide-prevention training every five years.
Two hours can be completed through Safe Schools, an online program through which teachers and administrators complete lessons and take quizzes on suicide prevention, among other safety measures.
Wittwer leads a district-wide mental health committee that meets three or four times a year. The committee evaluates how to handle mental health needs in the schools, and works with the Family Resource Center and Century Health to get students and their families help.
Precia Stuby, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services board of Hancock County, said screening students for mental health problems, similar to the way they are now screened for drugs, could help detect early warning signs of suicide. Wittwer said court rulings haven’t opened that door yet and school districts would need parental knowledge or consent to conduct mental health screenings.
A positive sign is that there is a growing public awareness of mental health issues, and research over the last several decades has uncovered better information on the causes of suicide and effective prevention strategies.
Our communities have the resources and counseling networks in place to address teen and preteen depression and suicide issues that can surface in our schools. We trust school officials and mental health providers are already exploring new prevention options.
Others though, especially parents, should become active participants in the conversation. Engaging in an open dialogue about suicide might save another child’s life.

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