A few stories that show prevention works.
Lives Saved in Spokane - An Inspiring Story That Shows Prevention Does Work
Last summer, we received this inspiring story from a person in Spokane showing that there is hope in prevention for those facing suicide.
"I wanted to write to let you know how great a staff member you have in the Spokane office. Sabrina came to my office to give a suicide prevention presentation to one of our departments last fall. I heard about the training and decided to attend because I had a suicide plan for myself. I had nearly everything in place, including the letter to my family. During Sabrina's presentation, I was profoundly changed. The information impacted me and I slowly started to find clarity again. I contacted her via email and she gave me some resources for adults. She was extremely helpful, and I could tell that she wasn't judging me for the things I was thinking, planning, and feeling.
Today, a coworker broke down over the phone and told me about her suicidal teenage son. She needed the day off to care for him and she was trying to tenderly explain the situation. Because of the resources Sabrina gave me, I was able to pass that on to a very concerned and frightened mother. The work that Sabrina is doing is effectively changing lives. The entire team dedicated to this program is simply amazing. I'm certain the job is tough and the work can seem to fall on deaf ears. People don't want to talk about suicide, but it's real, it's powerful, and it affects everyone.
Thank you for your amazing program and your wonderful staff."
Update: The woman in our story above recently contacted Sabrina to say she is happy and healthy now.
Youth Suicide Prevention Program Helps Vashon Island After the Lose of a Youth
Recently, the close-knit community of Vashon Island was devastated by the suicide of a well-liked ninth grader, the first youth suicide in their community in thirty years. Drawing on their community’s strengths, parents, students, school officials, and community members came together to support and protect the rest of the students and open spaces and services for those in need of support. Part of the school district’s strategy was to call YSPP.
When a staff member from the local counseling provider called us asking for materials for a parent forum, our King County Trainer and Training Director went above and beyond their request and traveled to the island to prepare the school’s counselors for the discussion and then speak to a group of grieving parents in the high school library. We explained how adolescents react to a traumatic loss, how to recognized the signs that grieving has crossed the line into dangerous thoughts or behaviors, which students are most vulnerable after losing a peer, and what parents can do to provide support and intervene in a crisis.
This presentation was so well-received that the school community reached out to us for more support. We provided a training for all of the teachers and staff at Vashon Island High School and presented our youth workshop in classrooms, reaching every student at the school in two days. Our classroom presentations not only gave students the tools they needed to help their peers connect with appropriate services; we also helped the school identify students whose reactions to the content raised concerns. In November we will be providing a workshop for student leaders at McMurray Middle School and hold a second parent meeting.
School district staff and local counselors agreed that the Vashon community could not have handled this situation so well without YSPP’s help. Our ability to present clear, practical information from outside the crisis has been of enormous value to the support workers already in place. Our workshops for parents and students are reinforcing the messages already coming from within the community. We consider our work with this school district a model for future school-level post-vention.
Carnot James (C.J.) Thomas, Ph.D, School Psychologist at McMurray Middle School, sent this word of thanks to to us: "First and foremost, thank your organization for all the support you have provided our district after our suicide about a month back. I have been really impressed by your response, resources, and willingness to help out. It has been greatly appreciated."
"I have that", "I feel that way", "That's me" - Riding the Waves helps a 5th Grader
From an elementary school counselor:
"Right now we are currently piloting our Elementary School curriculum, Riding the Waves. It is designed for 5th graders transitioning into Middle School and there are 12 lessons that focus on coping skills such as belly breathing, relaxation, imagination, problem solving, positive self-talk, affirmations, etc. The 1st two lessons are introductions to stress and depression.
One of my pilot counselors was teaching the introductory lessons (1 and 2) in her classroom for the first time. She was particularly concerned about talking about these subjects because she considers her school/community as being very "conservative". She had many calls from parents who wanted to know why their kids were being taught about suicide. However, this curriculum does not even mention suicide, but because Youth Suicide Prevention Program is written on the binder and materials, it concerned some parents.
This morning I just got a call from this counselor and she wanted to tell me that it was her first time teaching Lesson 2 (depression) and right away she had a student who asked a lot of questions and kept saying "I have that", "I feel that way", "that's me". She took notice right away and after the lesson, asked the teacher to call the boy's parents for permission to talk with her alone. She said at first the teacher was hesitant and not sure it was "serious" enough to call his parents, but once the boy's parents gave permission, he went down to the counselor's office and disclosed that he feels most if not all of these symptoms (of depression).
The counselor told me she thought that if it weren't for this curriculum and this lessons being taught in this classroom, that neither she, nor the teacher would ever know that this particular student felt depressed. She also felt that this curriculum is helping to prevent future problems for this student as well as others.
In my opinion, I was quite surprised to get this call. This counselor was hesitant from the beginning about Riding the Waves, and was very concerned about teaching it. She was not looking forward to me coming to observe the lessons, but now, she has invited me into her classroom twice to observe the lessons. I think this not only shows how well the curriculum is working, but the confidence that it is giving the counselor to teach."
Cowlitz County youths attended a Youth Suicide Prevention Program event at the Youth and Family Link Program in Longview, where they learned about suicide prevention and made posters to get the message out.
The vibrant posters encouraged youths to “Keep Living,” “Keep Dancing,” “Keep Experiencing,” and “Keep Wanting More,” and one poster pleaded “Don’t hurt yourself!” The posters displayed the phone numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Trevor Project.
The posters were displayed on National Night Out on August 7, 2012, where YSPP Cowlitz County Coalition members and other volunteers staffed booths and brought awareness to the issue of youth suicide prevention.
Suicide and Native American Youth
"Every single person who came by my booth had a story to share about a family member or friend who they had lost to suicide," said Youth Suicide Prevention Program Yakima County Field Coordinator, Celisa Hopkins, who recently participated in a fair held by the Yakima Nation Housing Authority. "It (suicide) is such a part of the culuture on the reservation, and people are hungry for more education and training."
While youth suicide rates in Washington have declined, our state's rate remains above the national average, and Native American youth are particularly at risk. Their suicide rate is more than twice that of the white youth population.
Suicide ultimately knows no socio-economic or ethnic bias, but risk factors for Native Americans, such as lack of economic opportunity and very little access to mental health services, are greater, and, therefore, the suicide rates are higher.
YSPP hope to increase our reach with Native Americans and reduce this unacceptable suicide rate.
A Student Steps up to Receive Suicide Prevention Information
It was parent teacher conference night at Battle Ground High School, and Youth Suicide Prevention Program Clark & Cowlitz County Field Coordinator, Mary Jadwisiak, was about to give the training "Coping with Adolescent Stress and Depression."
Battle Ground High School had experienced the death by suicide of two current students and one recent graduate in the past seven months.
The night started off dishearteningly. Only three people showed up to the training, and participants for the financial aid workshop that was immediately following began to arrive, but most of them just ignored YSPP.
Then something happened that made it all worthwhile.
A parent picked up a YSPP handout "Keys to Talking & Keys to Asking About Suicide." Mary told the parent he was more than welcome to any of her materials, but that they were about sucide prevention, not financial aid.
"Oh," said the parent, who quickly put the handout back.
Then the parent's son reached around him and picked up the handout. "I'll take one," he said. Mary also gave the son a tri-folded brochure on suicide prevention steps and offered him a help card with two toll free suicide help-line numbers on it.
The son gratefully took the resources and immediately started reading everything. Meanwhile, his father took a seat elsewhere.
"...you probably don't realize how many of us you've helped in this room today"
"I'm in your bullying seminar as I'm typing this and I'm getting this feeling that you've been through some of the stuff people have talked about in this class. You've opened my eyes to helping people out, and other things and I aspire to be like you in the future. You're clearly an amazing individual and you probably don't realize how many of us you've helped in this room today.
Thank you so much for all this." - A High School Student to Youth Suicide Prevention Program's Heather Carter during the the 2012 JEA/NSPA National Journalism Conference, April 13, 2012
A Team Approach to Suicide at Work
At a middle school in the Lower Yakima Valley, one of three areas where YSPP's program "From the Classroom to Community: A Team Approach to Suicide Prevention" is being piloted, a counselor noticed an 8th grade girl spending her lunches and breaks alone.
Concerned about the student's affect and apparent isolation, the counselor added this student to the Resource Management Team in the Lower Yakima Valley working with YSPP on this program.
When the counselor followed up with the student to see how things were going, the student said she did not have any friends, and was depressed and considering suicide.
The counselor explored this suicidal ideation with the student and determined the most appropriate course of action was to contact the County Designated Mental Health Professional (CDMHP) at Comprehensive Mental Health in order to have the student assessed for risk of suicide. After getting permission from the student's parents, the counselor contacted the CDMHP, who came to the school and assessed the student, ultimately deciding it was appropriate to admit her to Two River’s Landing, a certified mental health Youth Evaluation & Treatment facility in Yakima.
The student stayed at Two River’s Landing for one week, during which time the counselor showed his support by staying in touch with her. When she was released, she returned to school and, through the support of her family, entered into individual counseling with a private provider to address depression. The counselor created a safety plan with the student to check in with him at any time during the day when she is feeling overwhelmed or upset.
Thanks to the work of many coming together, this 8th grade girl is now getting the help she needs.
Art Helps Youths Through the Painful Emotions of Bullying & Suicide
We've all had moments in our lives when words fail to express what we're really feeling. For someone who is young, verbal expression can be even more difficult, especially if the emotions are painful.
In Benton-Franklin Counties, Youth Voice Through Art, a series of painting workshops lead by YSPP volunteer Valery Tolle, is giving young people a chance to artistically express their emotions and experiences with bullying and suicide.
"What we are finding is that the youth jump right in when we give them the supplies and begin to create and then start talking about their experiences," says Kristi Haynes, YSPP Benton-Franklin County Field Coordinator. "Instead of us presenting a training it becomes more of a dialogue that we can guide. We also provide resources for them."
And the resources are working. In a recent workshop, a young person told Tolle "I can do your job better than you can."
"Oh," said Tolle, "what do you mean?"
"I've stopped someone from killing themselves at least ten times," the young girl said. She went on to say that she helped prevent her friend's suicide by listening to and being supportive to her friend, and by taking her friend to talk to someone else who could provide further help and support.
"The group energy shifted after that conversation," says Tolle, "and all of the youth started to talk about how their lives have been affected by suicide. It was really powerful."
In the end, they hope to have 60 painted squares that will then be sewn into a banner by a group of girls in the young mothers class at the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick, WA.
The banner will hopefully be displayed throughout the community and bring awareness to the issue of bullying and suicide amongst our youth.
Maria Cantwell Supports Youth Suicide Prevention Program
From a letter dated Sept 17, 2011:
"I regret that I am unable to join you for the Walk About to Talk About Suicide Prevention. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide knows the pain and devastation which follows. I applaud your efforts to educate communities about the warning signs and specific ways to help someone contemplating suicide.
"In Washington, D.C. I've fought to expand youth and veteran suicide prevention programs. I cosponsored the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act and I pushed for the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act which authorized new programs to prevent youth suicide. Sadly, many children who attempt suicide are victims of bullying. That is why I have sought protections for children experiencing bullying by joining 23 of my Senate colleagues in cosponsoring the Safe Schools Improvement Act. This legislation would collect data on bullying and harassment and provide technical assistance to schools in their efforts to address bullying.
"Thank you to each and every one of you who came out. Your support and willingness to educate yourselves about suicide prevention will make a positive impact on our communities. I pledge to you that I will continue fighting for programs which offer hope to those who prematurely seek to end their lives. Thank you again for inviting me to this inspiring event.
United States Senator"
A thankful email from a training participant
I had the pleasure of attending your session at the WSCA Conference. Suicide has never been addressed at our school and was barely taught in college, so I feel so grateful that I finally was able to learn many things about suicide and self-harm.
Thank you so much!
"I'm grateful for the H.E.L.P. curriculum"
A health teacher who has delivered our H.E.L.P. curriculum in her high school classes recently wrote Lisa Watson, Youth Suicide Prevention Program Curriculum Coordinator and shared that the curriculum had helped her deal with a family member who was having suicidal thoughts. Because she had been teaching the curriculum for several years, she indicated that it was much easier to understand the many challenges the person was facing, provide comfort and to think logically through a difficult time. “I’m grateful for the H.E.L.P. curriculum; it’s made a difference in my home and to many young people at our school.
They knew this was "too big a problem to handle on their own"
Two students came to the counseling office at the middle school concerned about a friend who expressed some suicidal ideation on the phone the evening before. They said that they knew this was too big a problem to handle on their own and asked for the counselor’s help. They said that they had learned this through a lesson on suicide prevention in their health class. Their friend who was suicidal attended a different middle school so a counselor at that school was contacted and intervened.
Without specific training on suicide prevention, how can anyone – youth or adult – be expected to know how to help save a life?
Youth Suicide Prevention Program has a lasting impact in schools
There is nothing more satisfying to realize that what students learn through their peer-to-peer prevention efforts stays with them. Five years ago a middle school student at Pacific Middle School (Clark County, Washington) learned the warning signs and intervention strategies for at-risk peers. Now at college, the student is concerned about a peer and knows to ask for more help. It is difficult to formally measure our prevention efforts, but here is evidence that education makes a difference now and later.
Read her email to Rene Corbin - High School Suicide Prevention Leader:
Hi Ms. Corbin. I don't know if you remember me, but this is student's name from your 8th grade youth suicide prevention program 5 years ago. I am now in college and someone that lives in my dorm has just told a good friend of mine that he has been very depressed lately and is thinking suicidal thoughts. I remember that this means that he is reaching out, looking for someone to help him out of it, and the 3 steps: show you care, ask the question, and get help immediately. So tomorrow, i plan on talking to him about it and I'm going to encourage him to seek counseling, but I think it will be difficult because he said that there is only a very small group of people that he trusts with this: the good friend of mine that he told, me, and his neighbor. I don't feel like I know how to handle the situation perfectly, so if you could contact me as soon as possible, it would be greatly appreciated.
TOOLS FOR SCHOOLS
A quiet and somewhat shy young woman had a strong desire to help others. Sarah, who suffers from depression and has attempted suicide, is a student at an alternative high school. She signed up for the peer-to-peer training because she wanted to learn how to help friends who were in a similar situation as her own. She also took on the task of creating a logo and marketing package for the community’s first-ever suicide awareness event. Sarah attended the coalition’s meetings over the summer and also spoke at the fall event. She now plans to remain involved with the community task force and to continue to support peer trainings in her school.
One week after we trained a classroom full of middle school students to recognize the warning signs for suicide and the strategies for helping, Erin began receiving text messages from her friend, Joe. Joe was depressed and discouraged and thinking about suicide. Erin responded by showing concern and asking direct questions – just as she had learned in class – and then went to the school counselor for help. Erin admits being scared when she started getting the texts from Joe but is grateful that she had listened to the presentation in class and learned what to do.
LGBTQ OUTLoud Program
Youth Suicide Prevention Program was honored with the 2008 Seattle Mayor’s Award for our commitment to social justice and leadership in addressing the issues in the LGBTQ community. The mayor also proclaimed June 5th LGBTQ Youth Suicide Prevention Day!
It is not uncommon to be approached by young people after I conduct a workshop. They ask for help or want resources related to suicide or their LGBTQ identity. Recently Brianna told me that she had “a friend” who was self harming; Brianna wanted to find a way to get her to stop the behavior. Probably because I took her seriously, she began to trust me; in a short time Brianna disclosed that she was actually the individual who was self-harming and not “a friend”. I was able to refer her to an outpatient counseling program at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Brianna is now receiving treatment for her cutting behavior.
John died by suicide, but his family couldn't understand why. While trying to make sense of the tragedy, they were able to look through his computer’s search history and discovered a child who was struggling with his sexual orientation. In his Internet searches, John posed questions like “Am I gay?”, “Is it OK to be gay?”, “Does God love gay people?” John’s parents had no idea he was struggling; they believed they did not know any gay people.
READY, WILLING & ABLE COMMUNITIES
Becky had been involved in the suicide prevention group for two years during high school. When she graduated last year she had no idea that she would actually put the helping skills she had learned and taught her peers into practice. Becky’s adult friend, Mike, confided in Becky that Mia had been talking about hurting herself. Mike believed that Mia would hate him if he revealed her potential for suicide to her family. Becky convinced Mike that they needed to share their concern so that Mia could get some help. Becky thinks that some adults, like Mike, have too much pride to go to a counselor and that his pride (maybe fear?) could have gotten in the way of getting Mia the help she needed. The faculty liaison who told us this story said, “It’s nice to hear that what students learn and teach others follows them into the adult world.”
Many providers were frustrated by this organization’s lack of communication and coordination. They felt that this organization made it difficult to access mental health services especially during crisis situations. As a result of a community conversation that YSPP initiated, this organization agreed to participate in a series of meetings with other community organizations. By the end of the meeting staff from this organization agreed to exchange visits with staff from other community agencies, and best of all, this organization agreed to designate a particular staff person as a point of contact for the other community providers to ensure more responsive services for youth during a suicidal crisis.
A member of the Yakima County Coalition who works in community education for the Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital utilized her summer intern to develop a radio public service announcement (PSA) on suicide prevention. The PSA was recorded in English and Spanish. The intern has since been hired by the hospital and is working to identify other venues for the PSA, such as the Grocery Outlet and Fred Meyer. Who knows how far this education will reach!!
CURRICULA FOR KIDS
- Ben knew that Shelly had been depressed for months and that she had often tried to drown her problems with alcohol. When Ben got this call from Shelly, he was frightened but quickly recalled his recent lesson from the H.E.L.P. curriculum. While continuing to talk to Shelly on his cell phone and not allowing her to be alone, he also called 911 from his home phone. The medics arrived in time to save her life! In reviewing the situation with Shelly, she is convinced that she would have taken her life that night if Ben had not called 911.
- Lily was constantly saying things like, “I can’t handle it anymore” and “Nobody cares about me”. One day she wrote a note to her friend, Emma sharing her feelings regarding an incident that had happened recently. In reply, Emma wrote back and asked Lily if she was thinking of suicide. Lily replied with a “yes”. After class, Emma gave the note to her teacher who turned it over to a counselor. The counselor called home and Lily is now in counseling and feeling much better. The health teacher was quite amazed that Emma had used the actual intervention steps that she had been taught in the H.E.L.P. curriculum.
- Vanessa Lindgren, Middle School Counselor, Chief Leschi School writes, “When you look at what statistics show us regarding Native American youth and suicide rates, we see that this population has the highest rate of suicide in the country when compared to other youth. We need to be honest with them that depression is an illness that’s a factor in most youth suicides and a lot of young people deal with it. I want our students to learn that talking to someone about their own or a friend’s problem doesn't make them weak or disloyal but, in fact, strong and helpful."
Training put into Action
One of our newest volunteer board members excitedly reported that he had already applied the skills that he’d learned in his training-orientation. Scot explained that a colleague was despondent about his failing business. Scot noticed some of the warning signs that he had learned and admitted proceeding with some fear and trepidation to ask his colleague directly about thoughts of suicide. The colleague acknowledged that he had a rope in his car and was planning to end his life and to end the pain and humiliation of living. Scot is an independent business owner – not a social worker or counselor - but his new knowledge about suicide prevention and his willingness to get involved saved a life. An amazing way to begin a three year term on the YSPP volunteer board!
Personal Revelation of Importance of Suicide Prevention
Jacob, a student at Central Kitsap Junior High School, has been a peer educator for several years. He has taught his classmates how to recognize the warning signs for suicide and how to get help for a friend who is depressed and thinking about ending it all. Because of his commitment to his school’s prevention efforts he was asked to present at the Survivors of Suicide Teleconference in Bremerton. While he was nervous standing up in front of the crowd, he was “blown away” by all of the people who had been impacted by suicide. There were mothers who had lost sons and daughters, and wives whose husbands had taken their lives. There was a brother who had lost his only sibling. Jacob said, “That event had a profound effect on me; now more than ever, I know why suicide prevention is SO important.”
Youth Helped by Class Presentation
Several days after giving a suicide prevention presentation to students at a nearby middle school, the three student-facilitators visited the local Dairy Queen. One of the girls who had listened to their presentation approached and told them that prior to their presentation she had been feeling depressed. She told them that she had not been getting along with her mother. “Your presentation helped me talk with my mother about how I was feeling and now I feel better”. She gave them all a big hug, said, “thanks”, and walked away.
Recognition for Need of College Suicide Prevention
Having been involved in a suicide prevention effort in high school, Pam thought it was strange that her college didn’t seem to have any information for students who were struggling with thoughts of suicide. She was familiar with depression, having experienced her own feelings of despair and hopelessness. Pam decided that something needed to change so she recruited several caring friends and together they wrote up a constitution for a suicide prevention team. They presented their idea to a university board and have now been formally recognized as a club on campus. Their goal is to raise awareness about the problem of college-aged suicide and the resources for help. Already Pam and her friends have used chalk on campus walkways to communicate some of the sad statistics and they have linked those facts to crisis response through 1-800-273-TALK.
A Grateful Mother's Story
A mother called one of our field coordinators after attending a YSPP educational presentation and reported that her 14 year old son had announced that he no longer wanted to live. Because of the knowledge that she had gained at the presentation, she was able to talk to him directly about suicide and ask him if he had a plan. When he said “yes,” the mother reported that they “embarked on a journey together” to get him some help. She wanted us to know that she tells all kinds of people about YSPP and how our presentation helped her deal with her son and how their journey did not end in tragedy.
Kudos for Youth Suicide Prevention Program's Important Work
“I think it’s wonderful what you are doing.” This comment came from a mother who felt that help came too late for her family; her husband died by suicide. She continued, “In 1985 no one talked about suicide or the death of a parent or family member. I had to wing it with my boys. I remember one teacher went out and bought a book to read and figure out how to deal with my sons. Luckily my boys and I survived. Thank you so much for educating people.”
Speaking from Experience
“Part of me doesn’t want to say it, but we haven’t had a kid make a suicide attempt that’s resulted in a hospitalization since we’ve started the program. I think it has given everyone a way to talk about it. I think that the teachers have really integrated it into their thinking.” This comment was shared by a middle school counselor who has been actively involved in suicide prevention programs for nearly a decade.
It's Okay to Talk About It
"From my perspective our school’s suicide prevention effort has gotten the subject out in the open so that it is okay to talk about and has let people know that that kind of thing (suicidal behavior) needs to be reported. It’s brought it from the back of the room to the front."
A New Willingness to Help
"The presentation has made a change in me. I will not be afraid to ask a person if they are sad and be willing to talk.”
A Trusted Resource Now
Tom Juvic, a psychology teacher opened up his classrooms for the 45-minute peer-to-peer presentations and explained their value by saying, “Kids come to me quite a bit; I think part of that is the adults who have hosted these sessions become identified as helping adults. So I have kids that I really don’t know that well who come up to me and say, 'hey, we’ve got this friend that we are worried about – what can we do?'”
A Letter of Thanks
Note sent to school counselor from a student who had graduated:
“Over my three years at Islander, I went through so many teachers but none of them ever taught me anything as useful as the things I learned through you and the Natural Helpers. I feel like I really have the tools because of it to help my friends when they need me or people who aren’t my friends too, and I have helped a lot of people I feel. Last night when I was talking to a boy from another high school he told me of his plans for suicide I knew exactly what to do because of everything you taught us in YSPP. I was on the hotline for an hour and I am pretty sure I saved his life. Without everything I learned I wouldn’t have taken him seriously or known what to do. I realize I never really thanked you for everything after middle school. It meant a lot to me to have one consistent teacher who was always there, that I could trust and talk to about things. Again thank you so much for all the things you helped me with.”
Commitment to Community Outreach
After hearing Celisa Hopkins facilitate a presentation about depression and youth suicide prevention, the President of the Junior League in Yakima decided that it was time for her organization to get involved. She admitted that in her fourteen years with the Junior League they had never highlighted the issue of youth suicide. “As volunteers who are committed to this community, we need to rally in support of our children and prevent this tragedy of suicide.” The women of the Junior League of Yakima were able to raise nearly $3,000 to support the activities of the local suicide prevention coalition. It is all about heightening awareness and saving lives.