Stillwater News Press

Local News

July 31, 2013

Oklahoma State seminar sheds light on suicide

STILLWATER, Okla. — The numbers are shocking — 4,600 children commit suicide in the United States each year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 24.

Stillwater experienced a tragedy in September 2012 when a 13-year-old eighth-grader committed suicide in a school hallway just before the start of morning classes.

“Unfortunately, suicide has become an option for children around the nation,” said Staci Wayant, a middle school counselor in Putnam City. “For some reason, they think it’s a viable option.”

Wayant, one of the presenters Tuesday during the 2013 Oklahoma Suicide Prevention Conference at Oklahoma State University, said increasing awareness of suicide prevention in school systems is critical.

“Schools have a unique opportunity to educate young people about suicide awareness,” she said.

Approximately 375 counselors, teachers, administrators and family members of suicide victims attended Tuesday’s seminar at the Student Union to learn about more about suicide prevention.

“One of the responsibilities we take on ... is to make sure that people who are engaged in suicide prevention know what the best practices are and how to work within different settings, whether that’s in a school, a faith community or within your own family,” said Jessica Hawkins, director of Prevention Services with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health at Substance Abuse Services, which sponsored Tuesday’s event. “These conferences give us an opportunity to teach what the research says about how to have the best (suicide) prevention that you can.”

The Stillwater school district focused on at-risk students. The district began training in a Lifelines curriculum designed to make students and school staff more aware of children in distress.

Hawkins said the Lifelines program creates a school environment in which students feel safe and supported.

Stillwater Superintendent Ann Caine began a policy in which each student in the district would have at least one adult teacher, staff member or coach with whom a student could confer about personal issues or problems.

“That’s a fantastic concept,” Hawkins said.

Caine said the school district would continue to encourage an environment in which students can feel comfortable telling counselors and teachers about troubled or at-risk classmates.

“There is an importance in telling,” said Ellen Harwell, a psychology instructor at East Central University who made a presentation at the conference. “Often (students’) peers or friends know someone is having suicidal thoughts, but they don’t take that next step and tell an adult. So we really need to break that code of silence and tell ... a trusted adult.”

According to the CDC, people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Victims are blamed and families and friends are stigmatized. As a result, people do not communicate openly about suicide.

Historically, Wayant said the subjects of suicide or mental health have been taboo.

“We’re trying to change that thinking,” Wayant said. “Talking about (suicide) does not cause it to happen. It’s OK to tell people you are having these struggles.”

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