Death Prevention top priority for US schools, especially AT

Disclaimer: This story talks about suicide and the effects of it. If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts please call/text 988 to connect with a Suicide & Crisis Hotline Counselor. 

In 2021, 7,126 people aged 15-24 committed suicide in the United States as reported by the CDC. With this information, the CDC also said that suicide was the second most significant reason of death for people aged 15-24 in 2021. 

However, AT is trying to educate all its students on suicide through Elyssa’s Mission. Elyssa’s Mission is a local organization based in Northbrook, Illinois with the goal to provide aid and information about suicide to all people involved with public and private schools. “What we started doing after we came back from COVID was the Elyssa’s Mission Signs of Suicide program. What we did was the first year, we screened all freshmen and juniors. Then last year we screened all four grade levels,” said Social Worker Jenifer Dowling.

During these screenings, students were taught significant amounts of information relating to suicide including “how to help a friend, how to help when you yourself are struggling, and asking questions related to screening if students are having current suicidal thoughts,” said Dowling. 

When information about suicidal thoughts or intentions is reported, social workers are required to fill out their own screener called the Columbia Screener. Once they have filled out the screener it provides advice on the next actions to take and the best ways to provide help. Talking about what information the screener can provide to the situation Dowling said, “Sometimes it is being able to then identify, these are my stressors that are going on and I just need these to get better or finding something like having difficulty waking up and having a purpose or wanting to hurt themselves. We are able with those questions to figure out what kind of help to get them.”

AT also does not act alone in combatting suicide and can provide help through external organizations. “We use places such as Dupage County to help us. We use programs that exist at a place like Alexian Brother Behavior Health,” said Dowling.

A way that AT has taken to fight this problem is putting information at students’ fingertips. On the back of every Student ID from the 2021-2022 school year onward are the phone numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and for a Crisis Counselor. Talking about this change and what it means going forward Social Worker Mr. de Leon said, “There is a hotline number that most students aren’t aware of or were never told. We are trying to bring back this ‘say something, see something’ approach with students.” 

However, educating students and faculty on suicide is only one-half of the battle. Being prepared for the worst to happen and knowing what actions to take is equally important. District 88’s Pupil Personnel Services team is working hard to address the challenges that these circumstances provide.  “Whenever there is any kind of tragedy, we as a Pupil Personnel Services team come together, and we talk about how to meet with students who talk about how to reach out to families. It really is on a case-by-case basis,” said Dowling. 

When a death happens to a faculty member or student in the school, conversations are always held in the background about ways to support not only the family but also students in the school along with clubs and sports. There was also a discussion held with the family over privacy concerns. The family of the deceased tells the administration at the school whether or not they would like to share anything. If they do decide to share any information they can also choose how much or how little. 

Social worker. de Leon also said, “We have to consider and the family too, if this was something even just a little bit public through social media, well then that’s something we can’t control.”

Social Media also can play a role in changing parents’ and families’ minds about what information they want to share with the public. 

“Unfortunately, we can’t control that (social media), we would ask people to respect the privacy but then that sometimes causes the parents to change their approach. They may say ‘Okay, you’re right. It is going to go public, we might as well do it our way then just let it leak out,’” said de Leon.

Another problem that many students have when it comes to suicide is not knowing what to do when a friend or someone they know has suicidal thoughts. “The one thing we want all students and anybody, whether you’re a student, or parent to know is that even if it is scary and uncomfortable it is absolutely okay to check up on that person,” said Dowling. “It is absolutely 110 percent okay to always go to an adult that you trust or to call the police department to do a wellness check on a friend.”

de Leon also continued on the matter and said, “I would rather lose a friendship than a friend.”

When reporting suicidal thoughts or actions students have expressed concerns about making the person who needs help angered or frustrated. “There is a huge fear of not wanting that friend or person to be mad. I think that what we have to know is that when someone is making statements that are scary, we as professionals get help for those students,” said Dowling. “It is a big burden to sit with the information that you’re afraid someone could hurt themselves and be scared. We don’t want people to be scared and feel responsible. We want you to speak up and find somebody so that you’re not carrying that because that is a big heavy thing to carry.”

Technology also plays a major role in suicide prevention and understanding what is going on through someone who is struggling. “It is really easy to hide behind a text,” said de Leon.

Within text messages, social media posts, and even school assignments it can be hard to decipher what emotions someone is trying to express. This can then lead to having responsibility on teachers, parents, and other students to report anything that might seem off especially if the message was received online. “As a society, especially young people, to not communicate as well as before, to hide behind the texting and social media to communicate our needs and our frustrations, then impacts people who can’t handle those attacks and then makes some question their self-worth,” said de Leon.    

Suicide is a significant problem for youth, however, with authentic conversations and information lives can be saved and this can one day become a problem of the past. 

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