Training for adults focused on awareness
By Natalie Johnson
A week after a Brewster teen took his own life, Liberty Bell High School students were still processing the traumatic loss of a peer, said school counselor Erika Spellman.
The school hosted a training session Wednesday evening (March 24) both in person and online geared toward helping adults talk to teens about suicide, spot warning signs, intervene and get help, thus hopefully preventing a suicide attempt.
“Because what happened in Brewster was far reaching into our community, we really thought this was a perfect time to be inclusive and bring this training to all of you,” Spellman said.
About 20 people attended in person and 30 watched online.
Some attendees were parents, teachers, coaches, youth group leaders or otherwise worked with students in the valley, and some said they had personal experiences with suicide.
Mandy Schmekel opened the program by discussing Only 7 Seconds, a suicide awareness program that asks people to send messages of support to those struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, saying it only takes seven seconds to tell a person they’re important, or loved, and perhaps give them a reason to not attempt suicide. For more information, go to www.only7seconds.life
The training session was developed by the University of Washington’s Forefront Suicide Prevention program and is grant-funded. The three presenters — Hilary Kaltenbach, Lauren Hubbard and Caitlin Cordell — have all been trained to give the presentation.
LEARN stands for Look for signs, Empathize and listen, Ask about suicide, Remove the danger and Next steps and provides information on how to spot symptoms of depression and anxiety and other common warning signs of suicidal behavior, and provides a basic script on how to talk to a teen experiencing suicidal thoughts.
According to the Washington Healthy Youth Survey, one in five youth surveyed reported they experienced a “debilitating” mental health issue. Of eighth graders in Washington, 45% reported not being able to stop or control their worrying, 40% of 10th-graders reported feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row and 18% of 12th-graders reported making a plan to attempt suicide.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 and 50% of the time involves a gun. In homes with a gun, the chance of suicide is three times higher, the presentation reported.
“I wanted to share why this topic is important to me, the topic of preventing suicide. I lost a high school friend to suicide in her adult life that I obviously wish was preventable and I also lost a student during my career as a teacher,” Kaltenbach said. I feel like anything I can do to share skills and knowledge to prevent a future death is well worth our time and discomfort.”
The training particularly focuses on what phrases and techniques can be helpful in getting a teen to open up, and which could do more harm than good. It focuses on building trust between the teen and adult.
Presenters talked about the importance about the tone of certain words, advising adults to say a person “took their own life,” or “died by suicide,” rather than committed suicide. Hubbard, a client advocate at Room One, said the word “committed” is often associated with criminal acts — using that word can make it harder for a person to open up.
“It can be hurtful to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. For these reasons we’re really going to try to change our language,” she said, noting that it’s difficult to break a bad habit, even for professionals like her. “It’s a good reminder to keep practicing.”
While words have power, Hubbard said studies have shown it is not true that talking about suicide with a person can cause them to attempt suicide.
“It’s a myth,” she said.
Actual causes of suicide are hard to pin down, they said. It is not often linked to stress, but associated with untreated mental health or substance abuse disorders, feelings of hopelessness and worrying about being a burden.
“If you haven’t had suicidal thoughts personally, this can be really difficult to understand,” said Cordell, co-lead of Room One’s Okanogan Healthy Youth Program.
Wednesday’s presentation was aimed toward parents, but Liberty Bell staff went through a similar training earlier in the day.
The training provides tips on how to make a home safer in the event of a mental health crisis, and gives resources for how to seek professional help.
Cordell likened the skills taught Wednesday to CPR for mental health.
“Your goal is to help a person through the immediate crisis, then you would let the professionals take over,” she said.
Suicide prevention resources
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
• Crisis Connections: 1-866-427-4747
• Teen Link: 866-833-6546 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
• Crisis Text Line: Text Heal to 741741
• Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
• Erika Spellman, Liberty Bell High School counselor: 996-2215, ext. 4131; or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Sean Fitzpatrick, Methow Valley School District counselor: email@example.com
• Okanogan County Behavioral Health: (509) 826-6191
• 24-hour local crisis line: (509) 826-6191 or (866) 826-6191