This week's blog contributor is Joel White, STAR Program Coordinator at Five Town Communities That Care
This week, I participated in the Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). This training is being provided throughout Maine to school staff in accordance with LD 609, passed into law on April 25, 2013. LD 609 required each school district to have at least two staff trained as suicide prevention Gatekeepers. High schools in Maine must have this in place by the start of the 2014-15 school year, while Maine Middle schools must comply the following year.
There is a lot of information out there on this, and I am not going to go into the details of the training, but there was one specific exercise that stood out to me which I thought would be good to share. This particular exercise is a Values Clarification exercise that helps individuals get a better idea of where they stand on the difficult topic of suicide. There is no right or wrong answer and, as we found in the class, a lot of shades of gray.
For each set of values, use a 1-5 scale, 1 being absolutely the first of the two values and 5 being absolutely the second of the two values in the pair.
1. Suicide should be prevented no matter what. (1 2 3 4 5) People have the right to decide whether to live or die.
2. If I had made a suicide attempt in the past I’d do all I could to keep it a secret now. (1 2 3 4 5 ) It really doesn’t matter if people know about my suicide attempt.
3. When there is a suicide in the community it is best to cover it up. (1 2 3 4 5) When there is a suicide death in the community everyone has a right to know.
4. People who are suicidal can only be helped by mental health professionals. (1 2 3 4 5) People who are suicidal can be helped by any concerned person.
5. I would never pursue a friendship with someone who had attempted suicide. (1 2 3 4 5) I would have no problem developing a friendship with someone who had attempted suicide.
6. I feel that suicide should be talked about openly. (1 2 3 4 5) Talking openly about suicide is dangerous.
7. I feel comfortable talking about suicide with anyone. (1 2 3 4 5) I feel uncomfortable talking about suicide.
This list of questions is an excellent way to begin to identify your own feelings on this complex issue of suicide. After spending some time with it, I would recommend parents take a moment and consider these questions with regards to their children. For example, number 5 might be a really good way to open a dialogue with your teen or pre-teen about the issue of suicide. Having these open conversations with your child may not only allow your child to feel supported if there were a time in their life when they were struggling, but also allow your child to be a support to a struggling peer.
Having over 10 years of experience working with middle school and high school teens, I have seen many examples of times where a teen that is struggling reaches out, not to mental health professionals, teachers, or even parents, but to their peers.
These peer relationships can be a significant lifeline for a struggling child, but also a source of anxiety for the peer that is being relied on. It is important that parents have conversations with their children and teens about what to do in these situations. Having a child or teen that knows upfront what to do, and when to seek help will not only attach a struggling peer with professional help in a timely way, but also allow your child or teen to feel confident that they know what to do and say in a very difficult and stressful situation.
Maybe as a parent you are unsure what resources are available to you. If so, here are some excellent contacts for further information:
Maine Suicide Prevention Program: http://www.maine.gov/suicide
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Maine: www.namimaine.org
National Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org
American Association of Suicideology (AAS): www.suicideology.org
Center for Suicide Prevention: www.suicideinfo.ca
There are many more local supports and programs, but the ones listed above are a great place to start.