ROCK SPRINGS– In response to the increasing prevalence of suicide in Wyoming and Sweetwater County, Sweetwater County School District #1 has started up a Suicide Prevention Program for students, families, and the community.
Each school in the district, in partnership with Southwest Counseling Services, is hosting suicide prevention trainings for parents and guardians as well as for students in hopes of strengthening relationships and to support physical, mental, and emotional health of students.
Walnut Elementary hosted its parent training Tuesday afternoon. Parents and guardians attended to learn about signs of suicide and depression, and also what their kids will be learning in the upcoming suicide prevention lessons.
Wyoming Ranks Second in Deaths by Suicide
Currently, Wyoming ranks second in the nation for deaths by suicide. Sweetwater County ranks fourth among the counties in Wyoming.
In 2019, teens ages 15-19, Wyoming ranked second in the nation for deaths by suicide with 31.1 deaths per 100,000 people. Alaska ranked first with 35.7 deaths per 100,000 people. South Dakota ranked third with 30 deaths per 100,000 people. The national average is 10.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
“Being ranked in the top five is not where we want to be,” Ramona Watts, Walnut Elementary School Counselor said.
Every two years, starting in 6th grade, students take a prevention needs assessment. The most recent assessment showed that eight percent of 6th and 8th graders self reported they had attempted suicide, while six percent of 10th graders self reported they had made an attempt.
Walls said what this shows is there is a need to build resiliency skills in youth earlier in their development. Students kindergarten through 4th grade will now be presented with age appropriate suicide prevention lessons in hopes of providing kids with tools to see signs of suicide in others and themselves.
Dani Deters, Southwest Counseling Prevention Specialist said currently, Wyoming is the only state in the United States that does not have an suicide prevention call center. Deters said the national hotline received 5,139 calls from Wyoming in 2019. Six other states are picking up those calls.
Due to this, Deters said people can call Southwest Counseling, as they have a 24-hour crisis line. People can reach the crisis line at 307-352-6680.
Additionally, people can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
All the above lines can be reached 24/7 for free and confidential support.
Is K-4 Too Young to Talk About Suicide?
Some parents at the training expressed concerns over starting conversations about such heavy topics as suicide and depression with young kids. However, Walls said in the K-4 program, they do not even say the word “suicide” and the word “depression” is not introduced until 4th grade.
Walls said that in Colorado recently, an eight-year-old died by suicide and left a suicide note written in crayon.
Deters said Southwest Counseling is seeing younger children being seen in the hospital in relation to suicide. She said this issue is present in young kids, and their hopes with the prevention program is to increase early intervention.
The program will take place once every school year. Through a series of exercises, such as role playing and watching videos, they will build skills to identify signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, and how to support themselves and others.
The program follows the acronym ACT, starting in kindergarten and continuing all the way through high school. ACT stands for: Acknowledge, Care, and Tell. The acronym ensures the lessons stay consistent throughout the years.
After watching videos, the students will be asked to fill out a screening form that will allow them to write whether they want to talk to a trusted adult about themselves or their concerns about a friend.
Walnut Elementary will be going implementing the program from February 1 through February 13, and it will be led by Walls.
Myths and Facts of Youth Depression and Suicide
During Tuesday’s training, parents also learned about different myths and facts regarding youth depression and suicide.
One of the myths was, “Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.” The fact is, the opposite is true. Bringing up the topic of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.
One parent said pointing out the myths and correcting them with the facts is very important in providing their kids with support. She said many people don’t believe depression is real, and she hoped that through this training and program, people would begin to recognize depression and therefore start providing support.
Signs of Suicide
Parents and guardians also learned about the risk factors, warning signs, and precipitating events involved in a person’s risk for suicide.
Some of the risk factors include mental health, substance abuse, social isolation, adverse life events, and access to guns.
Warning signs are indication that someone may be having thoughts of suicide. If someone sees or hears a warning sign, they should seek help immediately. Big changes in behavior can also indicate troublesome thoughts, such as changes in appearance or mood, extreme withdrawal, increase in risky behavior, or decreased interest in things they once enjoyed.
Deters added that people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts don’t always appear to be sad. Some people exhibit elevated moods as well.
Sometimes major life events can move a person from thinking about suicide to actually attempting. These events can include breakups, bullying incidents, or a sudden death of a loved one.
For more information about suicide prevention, visit https://sossignsofsuicide.org/parent.
SweetwaterNOW and our community partners at Southwest Counseling remind you that at any time if you or someone you know may be struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).