Community Invited To Learn Signs Of Suicide, Prevention Tactics

In 1906, the internationally recognized Morse code distress signal SOS was established and has grown to represent a call for help. On June 5, community members are being called to learn how to recognize if someone they know or care about may be reaching out for help because they are contemplating suicide.

Newtown’s first Caring For Our Youth Signs Of Suicide (SOS) Community Forum is being sponsored by the Newtown Public Schools Recovery Project Thursday, June 5, at Newtown Middle School Auditorium from 6 to 7:30 pm.

This public forum follows a training program initiated among school district staff, and the initiation of an SOS program in the high and middle schools, according to Recovery Project Director David Jacob, LCSW, and District Health Coordinator Judy Blanchard, MS, CPP.

Depression among middle and high school students continues to increase in the United States. About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18 according to the National Co-morbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A).

The risk for depression increases as a child gets older and girls are more likely than boys to experience depression.

Because normal behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child who shows changes in behavior is just going through a temporary “phase” or is suffering from depression. Youth who have depression may show signs that are slightly different from the typical adult symptoms of depression.

Adolescents who are depressed may refuse to go to school, feel hopeless or helpless, get into trouble at school, be negative, or feel misunderstood. Untreated depression may increase substance use, suicidal thoughts and attempts.

School-Based Program

The SOS Program is a research-based early intervention program listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidenced-Based Programs and Practices. The program is a school-based intervention that includes education and screening.

The Newtown Public School pupil services staff were able to bring the SOS Signs of Suicide Prevention program into the middle and high schools this year through funding from the Department of Education School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant and support from the Mental Health Screening Organization.

Local students participated in a guided classroom discussion on depression and the advantages of early intervention, learned the early warning signs for depression, and completed a screening form.

Students also learned they could elect to self refer for help by requesting to speak with a school counselor or a mental health professional at any time. Students also viewed a video that teaches them to recognize the signs of depression in others. And they were taught that the appropriate response to those signs are to acknowledge them, let the person know you care, and tell a responsible adult.

The intervention attempts to:

*Increase knowledge about depression

*Prevent suicide attempts

*Increase self-help seeking behaviors

*Increase help seeking behaviors on behalf of others

*Reduce stigma associated with mental health problems

A passive consent form was sent home in late February to parents of all students eligible to participate in the program, parent forums have been completed, and a parent SOS newsletter is available on the district website.

Community Forum Details

Mr Jacob said the June 5 community forum will highlight the relationship between depression and suicide, teaching that most often suicide is a fatal response to a treatable disorder — depression. Participants will learn the early warning signs of depression and will discuss how depression is an illness that can be treated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and adolescents ages 11–18 in the United States.

The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program teaches that some secrets should be shared, and if a friend talks about hurting himself/herself or someone else, it is important to ACT:

Acknowledge: Listen to your friend, don’t ignore threats

Care: Let your friend know you care

Tell: Tell a trusted adult that you are worried about your friend

The Signs of Suicide (SOS) Community Forum will include a video explaining how important it is for the entire Newtown community to be aware of how to help a young person, or anyone in trouble. 

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