Crisis expert encourages parents, teachers, community to talk about suicide
PARKER – Douglas County School District parents and staff recently had an opportunity to learn more about the prevention of suicide and other youth tragedies from a national expert in school crisis.
Dr. Scott Poland, a professor in the Center for Psychological Studies at Nova Southeastern University and co-director of the school’s Suicide and Violence Prevention Office, visited the District at the beginning of September. During his time in Douglas County he spoke to parents during a Telephone Townhall, principals during an administrators’ meeting, and to a variety of other employee groups, providing them with information about suicide and violence prevention, as well as providing feedback on the efforts already in place here at DCSD.
“I really compliment Douglas County because they're clearly trying to get the message out to everyone: How can we prevent suicide? There is networking and collaborating with all the important partners in the county,” Poland said.
His message on suicide was clear. While there is a reluctance in our society to talk about suicide, we must bring the topic to the forefront.
“It is such a leading cause of death. It is actually the second or third leading cause of death for all teenagers, depending on which state you're in. It is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans,” Poland explained. “We have to talk about it more. We have to talk about what to look for, what to do. How do you help yourself? How do you help your friends? We need to figure out how to talk about it in our homes, we need to talk about it in our schools, our churches and our neighborhoods.”
Dr. Poland says one of the biggest misconceptions is that by bringing up the topic of suicide, it will plant the idea in our students’ minds.
“Let me assure you, all kids know suicide is an option,” Poland said. “They've been exposed to it countless times through our movies and through our television programs. Most adolescents, sadly, know people who have attempted and some of them even know people who have died by suicide.”
“They're really looking at the adults like, 'why aren't you talking about this stuff. Why aren't you figuring out what we can do to prevent this problem,’” Poland added.
Suicide & Other Tragedies Are Preventable
Based on his experience, Poland says nearly all tragedies involving young people can be prevented.
“Their friends always know if they drive recklessly, if they drink and drive. Their friends know if they are depressed or if they've thought about or even attempted suicide. The friends also know if they are angry at someone at school or if they have a weapon,” Poland said.
“Perhaps the most challenging thing is to try to understand and change the climate where they won't come to us,” Poland explained. “The kids themselves will say, 'Oh, I just didn't think it would happen.' 'I didn't think he'd really do that.' 'I feared retaliation.' 'I didn't want to get involved.' 'Oh, I've been conditioned not to tell.'”
Poland says he wishes he could take the word ‘snitch’ out of our vocabulary.
“If you get help for a suicidal elderly neighbor, no one is going to call you a snitch. So why should a 12-year-old girl that gets help for her friends be any different? We should be commending them,” Poland said.
He says that while he believes in friendships and confidence between friends, there is an exception when someone is threatening to hurt himself or herself or someone else. The best thing a friend can do in that instance is to seek help from a trusted adult.
It is crucial for parents, staff and students to be aware of the warning signs of suicide and how to take action if there is a concern https://www.dcsdk12.org/suicide-prevention
“The friend might be a little upset with you for a while, you've done absolutely the right thing. They are ultimately going to thank you,” Poland said.
Furthermore, Poland encourages staff members at the schools to really get to know their students.
“I think it is important that every student in Douglas Counrty feels like somebody cares whether they've shown up today or not,” Poland said. “Staff members and teachers, you need to engage in conversations with our students. We need to know their hopes and their dreams and most importantly, we need to help them reach those hopes and dreams.”
He wishes that nationwide further training in mental illness should be required for educators, especially for school leaders.
“I wish I could tell you that in order to become a building principal in America or superintendent, that part of your university course work covered suicide prevention. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It is not the case to get your teaching certificate, either. What we are really left with is that on-the-job-training,” Poland said.
Of course, these issues are not just a school’s responsibility. They are community issues and Poland says it takes everyone working together to solve this problem.
He encourages everyone to learn more. The following are some excellent resources to start the conversation.