Rogers High School hosts Suicide Awareness Night
by Samara Postuma
The media center at Rogers High School held close to 50 parents, teachers and school administrators last Wednesday, March 20, as Deb Link, owner of cosponsor Link Therapy and Mediation in Rogers, and Jen Holper, Community Relations representative with cosponsor PrairieCare, presented a two-hour long workshop on suicide awareness.
Link and Holper, both professionals in the field, also have personal experience and have lost a loved one due to suicide.
“The statistics are clear, 1 in 10 people all experience symptoms of mental illness in their life time and 1 in 5 people will experience some form of mental illness,” Holper said also noting that of those, only 30% will get help.
“This is happening all the time and we need to be ready to help all the time,” she added.
The timing for the workshop was intentional. April is the highest month of suicide, according to Link. “Two years ago there were 11 middle school and high school suicides in the state of Minnesota,” she said.
Link, a marriage and family therapist who works with individuals, families, couples and groups to address issues in thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships, presented most of the workshop.
She immediately dispelled rumors and myths that there is an exact profile of one likely to complete suicide.
“Most people think that suicide occurs when someone is at rock bottom but the reality is that it is more likely to occur on the way back up from rock bottom,” Link said as she began her talk. When someone is at “rock bottom” they have low energy and low motivation, so they aren’t doing anything. As they start working their way out of it and gain more motivation and energy suicide is more likely to occur.
Link shared a list of risk factors or what tends to make someone more likely to complete suicide. Her list included: previous attempt, depression, access to firearms, being alone after school, self injury, mental illness/psych disorder, chemical/substance abuse, family history, recent severe stressor, family instability, impulsive/aggressive behavior or rage, hopelessness, peer victimization/bullying, low self esteem and cultural consideration (like GLBT).
Link noted that the number one risk factor was a previous attempt.
“Based on the Minnesota student survey, ninth-grade girls show the most risk factors because transitions are tough. Girls are wondering who will be at my lunch? Who will I sit by? Will I fit in?” Link said.
She also shared a list of protective factors, noting that nothing is surefire, but ways that one can help promote communication and help a suicide occurrence to be less likely.
Her list included: effective clinical care, easy access to support, connectedness, ongoing medical/mental health support, problem solving skills, reduced access to firearms, safe schools, academic achievement, positive self esteem and cultural/religious beliefs.
While there are warning signs and behavioral cues, “Something to keep in mind is that most kids aren’t going to say, ‘Hi mom I’m feeling suicidal,’ ” Link said.
Warning signs and behavioral cues that Link shared included joking about suicide, giving possessions away, preoccupation with death/violence, engaging in risky behavior, obsession with guns and knives and accidents/close calls.
It’s important for parents and other adults ask questions and be straight forward. “It’s ok to ask when you see these things going on, have you ever thought about ending your life?” she said. The harder part for parents is likely to not over or under react. “Validation is really important,” Link said explaining not to go overboard with judgement or ignore what they have to say.
“It’s easy as an adult to be logical about things that may have a 13 year old feeling hopeless, but they are in the emotional side of their brain and they need someone to help them through that not just jump to logic,” Link said.
“School is a resource, we have counselors and social workers who want to help too,” said Judy Johnson, Dist. 728 Prevention Specialist.
“This school district is pretty phenomenal when it comes to mental health,” Link said in closing.
Jenni Herzog, a Lincoln Elementary teacher and district parent attended Wednesday night’s workshop and really appreciated it. “This was a great resource for both parents and teachers and the fact that it was free. I learned a lot about bringing the conversation to their level,” she said.