June 13th Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium – Prevention over Postvention: Keeping our kids safe from Suicide

By Jeni Janek

“Counselors were on campus today in response to….”

We’ve heard it a hundred times in the media and cringe at the stories that follow these words, reporting the loss of yet another youth to the tragic phenomenon of suicide. What most do not realize is the impact and response that ensues and the taxing amount of time and emotional capital spent by educators and school personnel on campus who comfort survivors, wade through the shock and try to find answers that rarely come.

When a tragedy such as student or school employee death occurs (whether it be a suicide, accident or of natural cause) Education Service Center (ESC) Region 12’s Crisis Response Team launches into immediate action to serve on-site and/or behind the scenes to help those who are caring for their students and colleagues. Our kids grow up in our Texas schools, and a school is one big family–a loss is felt across campuses and reverberates in the community.

ESC Region 12 employs specialists whose job is to do one thing: serve educators and students. There are one-to-one counterparts for nearly every role in the typical school environment. Their duties range from conducting professional development to designing resources for school personnel as they instruct and care for the 161,000 school children in our region each day. One area of this work is to help our schools in their greatest time of need: when they lose a student or an educator.

In the last seven years, ESC Region 12 has worked in this role with others to ensure that school leaders and their teams have the resources and support needed to resume operations in the wake of fatalities. Suicide has been the number one reason that the ESC Region 12 Crisis Response Team responds to schools in our region. It has become an epidemic not only in Central Texas but in our state. The national average for suicide attempts among teens is 7 percent (according to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 2017), while Texas sits at 12 percent.

While suicide is an epidemic, it is a preventable one. It’s for this reason that the Education Service Center Region 12 has hosted the Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium for the last 14 years. ESC Region 12, Cedar Crest Residential Treatment Center, Providence Ascension Healthcare Network and the Methodist Children’s Home will present this year’s symposium on Thursday, June 13 at ESC Region 12, 2101 W. Loop 340 in Waco.

Medical and mental health speakers will share research and strategies for helping youth who struggle with suicidal ideation.

Social media continues to be a factor in teen suicide, but efforts to raise awareness about healthy practices and reporting options are making a difference in Central Texas schools. How else as a community can we make a difference? We can bring people together to discuss and implement strategies and resources that will help keep our kids safe. Educators may often be the first to see signs, but we as a community must reach out and offer more than supportive words.

Our children are living during an unprecedented age of technological advancement and interaction, but are still needing strong relationships (in school and in their communities) to help them grow up to be safe and healthy adults. They are depending on us to help them navigate challenges and not just survive, but to thrive.

Seats are available for $90 a participant, which includes a light breakfast and lunch. Click here to register: Suicide Symposium.

ESC Region 12 is a nonprofit service organization devoted to supporting educators and school personnel in their efforts to increase student achievement. We are passionate about helping schools of all sizes through effective professional development, expert assistance, direct services and alternative certifications. Click here for more about ESC Region 12.  

Jeni Janek is the ESC Region 12 Crisis Response Team Leader and serves school counselors in the Region 12 area. She is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin with a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation and Psychology and received her Master degree in Counseling Psychology from Tarleton State University. Janek is a certified school counselor and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).  Jeni and her husband Chris live in West with their son, Trey. Their daughter, Mary Kate, is a junior at Texas A&M. Janek enjoys traveling, being outdoors, and relaxing on the back porch of their country home with her faithful dog, Beau.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Mental Health: The Ripple Effect Of Suicide

By Elana Premack Sandler, LCSW, MPH

“A suicide is like a pebble in a pond. The waves ripple outward.”

Many years ago, my colleague Ken Norton, LICSW, director of NAMI New Hampshire, shared this quote, and it has stuck with me. Visually, when you see a pebble drop into a pond, it’s something small that makes a big impact.

The first “waves,” close by, are big, and as they move outward, they get smaller and smaller. The reach of the pebble’s waves is much greater than the size of the pebble itself.

When someone dies by suicide, the people impacted most dramatically are those closest to the person who died: family, friends, co-workers, classmates. As a result, the people who interacted regularly with the individual who ended their life will miss the physical presence of that person and typically feel the loss most intimately.

But, those people represent only the first wave, or the initial level of impact. Those people who are members of an individual’s community, such as members of a faith community; teachers, staff and other students in a school; or service providers, may also be affected by a suicide.

Some of these people may feel the impact in a way that feels similar to those closest to the person who has died. In a situation where the individual has struggled openly with mental health concerns, those who knew of the struggle will feel the pain of the loss—likely wondering if they could have done more.

People who may not have even personally known the individual who died can also be impacted. Like emergency medical personnel, law enforcement, clergy and others who respond and provide support to the family and community, either at the time of death or afterward.

Ultimately, in the way that a pond is changed because of a pebble, an entire community can be changed by a suicide. According to a 2016 study, it is estimated that 115 people are exposed to a single suicide, with one in five reporting that this experience had a devastating impact or caused a major-life disruption.

So, what can be done to manage the impact of a suicide, and work toward future prevention?

Work To Decrease Stigma

Stigma only leads to silence. And silence about a suicide loss does not contain the ripple effect—it just leaves people feeling isolated, as if they are facing this tragedy alone. When someone dies by suicide, the aftermath opens up an immediate opportunity to talk about suicide as a public health issue that affects all of us. We all have a role to play in prevention and decreasing stigma by sharing our stories.

Increase Support To The Community

The impact of a death by suicide can be vast, as people hear about suicides through the proverbial grapevine. Community hotlines and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) should be advertised, and community groups, such as faith communities, may want to convene opportunities for people to come together to mourn and receive support. Peer support from people who have lost a loved one to suicide can be healing—it can be very powerful to know you are not alone and to connect with others who have also experienced suicide loss. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) maintains a registry of support groups, including a specific list of survivor support groups

For those who respond to a crisis, providing a way to process a suicide is different, though just as important, as providing support to those more intimately impacted by a death. Crisis responders need space and time to debrief in order to be able to continue to respond appropriately, both in terms of their own reactions and in the way they support those who have lost a loved one.

Help People In Need Access Mental Health Resources

For those struggling with suicidal thoughts, access to mental health treatment can be key to saving a life. If you personally know someone struggling, encouraging them to seek help —even helping them get to that first appointment—shows that you support them.

In the bigger picture, advocating for better insurance coverage for mental health treatment will allow more people to be able to access professional help. Schools, primary care offices and community programs serving people at risk can organize screening programs as long as there are resources in place to be able to effectively refer those at risk to appropriate treatment.

As we witnessed recently, a suicide by a celebrity can have widespread impact. For those who have lost loved ones to suicide, hearing of another death by suicide can be triggering and emotionally draining. For people who have survived suicide attempts themselves, media coverage of suicide may increase their own feelings of suicidality. And yet, paying attention to these deaths increases our collective awareness of suicide as a problem and highlights suicide prevention as a need.

When we grieve together, we realize the impact of one single life—one pebble in a pond.

Elana Premack Sandler, LCSW, MPH is an Associate Professor of Practice and an Assistant Director of Field Education with SocialWork@Simmons. Since 2009, Elana has been blogging at Psychology Today on suicide and suicide prevention, with a focus on the intersection of mental health and social media.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.


Save a Life

By Cynthia Cunningham

It has been a sad week.  Two local suicides and two celebrities suicides.  Those are just the ones that we heard about. I had not planned to write on this topic this month.  After all September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  However, lives are too precious to put on a schedule!  The need to talk about this issue is growing.  I want to ask you to talk openly about this subject with those around you.  It is time we are honest and talk about suicide. By doing so, we eliminate the stigma that prevents people from seeking help.

I was told that in Waco we have at least three to four suicides each week.  Those are just the ones that can be confirmed.  What about the questionable deaths when no note is left behind?  What about deaths from overdoses? Were they accidental? On purpose?  The numbers of lives lost to suicide could be much higher.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that suicide rates in the United States has grown by 25% from 1999 to 2016. The United States lost 45,000 people in 2016 to suicide. More than the number of lives lost to car accidents that year.  More than the number of lives lost to homicide that year. Need a clearer picture? That is the number of people who populate one-third of Waco. That would be equal to losing the population of Hewitt, Robinson, Beverly Hills, West, China Spring and Woodway COMBINED!! Think about all those families who were effected. Not to mention their friends, co-workers, etc.

We are past the point of being saddened by this epidemic.  It will not stop unless each of us does our part!  Yes, YOU can prevent a suicide!  Please take the steps to learn how!!

Myths of Suicide:

Suicides happen without warning:  Those who attempt or die by suicide have often communicated their distress to at least one person.  This communication is not often direct, so it is important to learn the warning signs.

Talking about suicide puts the thought into their head: Talking about it allows the person the opportunity to talk about issues they are struggling with in their lives.  It lets them know that their pain is seen and heard.  They begin to learn that they are not alone.  Again, it is so important to learn the warning signs.

Those who threaten to take their lives are just seeking attention: No, this is a cry for help.  Yes, they need attention in the most desperate way.  Let us give it to them! Learn the warning signs so you do not miss this cry.

Telling someone to “Cheer up” or “Snap out of it” stops suicide: WRONG!  This actually makes them feel misunderstood and ashamed of their feelings.  (i.e. it makes it worse!!)  Would you tell someone with a broken leg to snap out of it? Do you think that works?  Educate yourself of the warning signs!

Warning Signs:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing and isolating themselves
  • Being agitated, anxious or reckless
  • Being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Having rage or seeking revenge
  • Showing extreme mood swings
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves

Learning the Warning Signs is just a start. Educate yourself as much as possible on suicide prevention and mental illness.  You never know when you might be in the position to help save someone.

If nothing else remember this:  ASK

A = Ask if they are having thoughts of killing themselves
(be point blank – they are hoping someone sees their pain)

S = Stay with them and keep safe
 (keep yourself safe, move away from weapons and never leave them alone until help arrives)

K = Know who to call
(you’re not expected to be the expert…call the experts: 911 or 800-273-8255: put this # in your phone!)

Take advantage of Mental Health First Aid Classes!  You know how to perform CPR in a crisis but do you know what to do in a mental health crisis?  Contact NAMI Waco for Adult Mental Health First Aid and HOTRMHR for Youth Mental Health First Aid.  Be Prepared!

And if you are struggling…Please know that you are not alone!  Reach out for help…YOU are important!!

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 press 1
  • Veterans Crisis Text Line: 838255
  • LGBTQ Crisis Line: 1-866-488-7386
  • LGBTQ Crisis Text Line: Text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200

Cynthia Cunningham, a Wacoan since age 2, is the Executive Director for NAMI Waco.  She lives with her husband of 28 years, Bobby, and two spoiled dogs and one royal cat!  Her passion is educating others about mental health.  She can be contacted at: www.NAMIWaco.com

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.