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Public Health Essentials

A place to highlight the work of the Snohomish Health District as well as share health-related information and tips. Have an idea or question? Drop us a line at SHDInfo@snohd.org.

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Jul 29

"Say the words:" Suicide prevention training reaches three tiers at Jackson High School

Posted on July 29, 2019 at 10:16 AM by Kari Bray

One conversation can help someone stay alive.

That’s the takeaway for Lyn Lauzon, an intervention specialist at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek. 

“I used to think that if someone was suicidal, they needed to get inpatient care and intensive help,” Lauzon said.

Now, she wants people to understand that saving a life can be a matter of asking a question and listening. 

That doesn’t mean the person won’t need professional help in the future to overcome the underlying causes of their suicidal thoughts. 

But when it comes to stopping a suicide, anyone can help. They just need to know how.


Lyn and Alyssa in a posed photo receiving their Health Champions awardLauzon and Alyssa Campbell, a family support advocate at Jackson High School, have coordinated suicide prevention trainings for the school’s parent night, students in the Gay Straight Alliance, and all high school staff. The two women were recognized by the Snohomish Health District in April as Suicide Prevention Champions. 

They wanted something that was easy, practical and memorable, they said – particularly for educators, who are used to being in front of the class rather than part of it.

“I think that our nature is to avoid these tough topics,” Campbell said. “There’s that fear: ‘I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I’m not an expert.’ I think the best trainings alleviate that fear. You don’t have to be an expert. We’ll find an expert if we need one. You just have to show you care.”

Wendy Burchill, a healthy communities and injury prevention specialist with the Health District, presented QPR suicide prevention trainings at Jackson High in 2018. She also leads “Words Matter” trainings on how to report on suicide for journalists, bloggers, students, social media users, and anyone else interested in how to talk about suicide appropriately and accurately.

The all-staff QPR training at Jackson was the largest group she’s ever taught. QPR focuses on how to recognize warning signs of suicide and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help.

Reaching three tiers in a school community – parents, students and staff – is a big step for suicide prevention, Burchill said. And it comes at a time when big steps are needed. 

The 2018 Healthy Youth Survey results came out in March. According to the survey, one in four high school seniors in Snohomish County has seriously considered suicide, and one in five has made a plan. For every 100 seniors, 44 of them reported signs of severe depression.

That jumped out at Burchill: 44 percent of seniors battling depression.

Campbell suspects the percentage may be higher. “Those are just the ones who put it on the survey,” she said.

Campbell lost a friend to suicide. She stresses the importance of mental health awareness. Now, she can look back and identify warning signs she didn’t know to look for at the time. 

Suicide prevention trainings should be something that is available at every school and workplace, she said. For schools like Jackson where staff have been trained, she’d like to see annual refreshers. Repetition is crucial, particularly when the topic is one most people are uncomfortable addressing.

“It’s a matter of practice and time,” she said. “You just have to be bold. Say the words.”

I care about you and I’m worried about you. Are you planning to kill yourself?

Suicide doesn’t care how much money someone makes, or where they live, or what they drive or wear. Depression and anxiety affect people regardless of their race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or economic situation. Some groups are at higher risk, including young women and the LGBTQ community, but no group is immune.

“A lot of parents still think, ‘Not my kid,’” Lauzon said. “For the parents, training is crucial. If the parents aren’t educated, they won’t know what to do. They are going to see things more than we will.”

And Lauzon and Campbell see a lot. 

walking with backpackSpecifically, they see teenagers under pressure. There are academic expectations from their parents, their teachers, their schools, the colleges they want to attend. There are social demands from friends and family – both in person and in the fraught virtual world of social media. Meanwhile, their brains are still developing, as are their coping skills. Those who face a crisis such as poverty or homelessness outside of school may hide it from their peers, afraid to be singled out. Emotions run high. Failures or losses seem insurmountable. 

It’s essential for adults to acknowledge the struggles young people face rather than minimize them, Lauzon said. If someone is in crisis, it helps to shift their focus to the reasons they have to persevere.

“Talk about what’s worth living for right now, today,” Campbell said. “That’s what I’ve taken away from these trainings. Just talk about it. If you ask what’s worth living for and the only thing they can think of is their dog, well, OK, their dog is absolutely worth living for. Their dog needs them.”

It is not unusual to suffer from depression or anxiety. Asking someone whether they are considering suicide does not plant the idea in their head; it might be the opening they need to talk.

Anyone who is having thoughts of suicide or is worried about a loved one can call the Volunteers of America Western Washington Crisis Chat at 800-584-3578 or chat online at www.imhurting.org. These resources are available 24 hours a day.

Warning signs of suicide can include:
  • Comments about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, or having no reason to live.
  • Unusual irritability, rage, humiliation, or a sudden loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.
  • Increased reckless behavior, alcohol and drug use, sleeping too much or too little, giving away prized possessions, or visiting or calling people to say goodbye.  
 
If you have firearms in your home and suspect someone who lives there or visits may be struggling with depression, remove all firearms from the household. More safe storage information is available at www.snohd.org/lok-it-up.

The next “Words Matter” suicide reporting training is set for Tuesday, July 23, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at the Health District, 3020 Rucker Ave.

To request a QPR suicide prevention training, go to www.snohd.org/QPRrequest and fill out the form. 

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