National Suicide Prevention Month: Tempe Elementary Provides Training, Care for Staff and Students
“You are not alone.”
That message, along with the Teen Lifeline number for those contemplating suicide, is on the back of many middle school student IDs this year in the Tempe Elementary Elementary School District as part of their efforts to prevent suicide.
Suicide is the number two cause of death among 15-34-year-olds in the state of Arizona, according to data from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This alarming statistic is a contributing factor to why the month of September is set aside as National Suicide Prevention Month to bring awareness to the issue.
For students who are now facing more stressors than ever before, this is a crucial issue for local schools to be addressing in the lives of students.
“In Tempe Elementary, we realize that supporting students’ social and emotional well being is directly connected to their ability to learn,” said Jennifer Ostrom, Social, Behavioral, and Health Services Coordinator. “Students need and deserve to feel safe and cared for while at school. All the stress that our students are under impacts their learning, behavior, social relationships, and their sense of well being and safety.”
As a district, Tempe Elementary continues to strive to best meet the social/emotional needs of students. Trainings focused on suicide prevention are offered for school counselors and psychologists throughout the year.
Additionally, each Tempe Elementary school has a counselor on site, as well as access to a psychologist.
“The ASSIST training this month was very educational and helpful. There were audio/visual presentations, group discussions and opportunities to practice the skills we learned in small groups,” said Laird School Counselor Danielle Juengel. “It was also an emotional experience, you go into the training with your own experiences and perceptions of suicide that have to be negotiated while you are learning the ASSIST model. I learned a lot from this training, but overall I learned how to keep an individual at risk safe while seeking further help if necessary.”
Programs like Second Step, which teaches problem-solving and self-care skills, is utilized district-wide at all levels, and their award-winning PBIS program (Positive Behavioral Intervention Support) encourages a positive atmosphere for students and helps to set them up for success in all areas of school. Both programs are implemented in all district classrooms. Strong functioning intervention teams that help to identify social and academic needs of students also add support for Tempe Elementary students and staff. The goal of each program is to help promote a positive school culture where students are encouraged to be open about their feelings and be kind and caring toward one another.
Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks about them in a caring way. Findings also suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation. In addition to the programs offered to combat this, “Choose Kindness, Change the World” is the theme for this school year. Across Tempe Elementary’s 22 schools, children are being reminded daily to look for ways to show kindness to their peers.
Juengel notes that giving and receiving kindness can be an antidote to the stress and depression that students need.
“It is one of the few things you can do for free the benefits everyone,” Juengel said.
Juengel added that it is important for parents to seek to know and understand their student’s behaviors, and listen to them. Is their student just having a bad day or has it been going on for awhile?
Suicide Warning Signs
Most suicidal youth demonstrate signs that signal their suicidal thinking. These behaviors include*:
Unexpected decline in academics
Noticable changes in eating and sleeping habits
Withdrawal from family and friends
Changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts and/or feelings
Agitation, restlessness, distress, or panicky behavior
Suicidal threats in the form of direct (“I am going to kill myself”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up again”) statements
Suicide notes and plans (including online postings)
Prior suicidal behavior
Making final arrangements (e.g., making funeral arrangements, writing a will, giving away prized possessions)
Preoccupation with death
*List from Arizona Association of School Psychologists and Stanford Children’s Health
Parents should always contact their child’s school and seek professional help sooner rather than later if they notice any signs or have concerns about their student’s well being.
“Sometimes our greatest work as educators is how we impact a child’s feelings about his/her own self-worth and ability to achieve his/her own goals and dreams,” Ostrom said. “In addition to teaching skills like goal setting, problem solving, empathy, emotional management, and friendship skills, we must also ensure our staff is well prepared to engage in suicide prevention activities to keep kids safe and hopeful about their place in the world.”
Suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is struggling, get help immediately via 911, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to 741741).