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School raising suicide awareness

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MALONE — Teen suicide. For many it’s hard to discuss. It’s not often the topic of casual family discussion over dinner. But maybe it should be.

“We tell our kids about seat belts; stop, drop and roll; drugs; safe-sex,” said Kim Russell, the Mohawk ombudsman at Salmon River Central School. “But not this.”

For more than five years the school has run a peer-based suicide prevention program called Source of Strength to educate students throughout the school’s social groups on recognizing the signs of depression. The main goal is to increase “help-seeking behaviors” in teens so they feel safe talking to a trusted staff or family member about what they’re going through.

Ms. Russell said the program has seen definite success over the years. She’s been approached by students whose friends recommended her as a “trustworthy adult.” Her volunteers sometimes tell her about recommending a suicide hotline and just being there for a friend in need. The program stresses the importance of telling someone.

“Chances are your friend will get over being mad at you,” she explained. “The other option is more final.”

And now the school is taking the next step in suicide prevention by introducing an additional school-wide prevention program called Lifelines. Since the beginning of this school year, everyone from math teachers to secretaries to bus drivers at the school have been trained to recognize potential warning signs in teens and reach out. More than 300 adults from the Salmon River community are there for support.

“The cafeteria workers and bus drivers asked the most questions,” Russell said.

And just last week Ms. Russell and her colleague Christine Venery of the St. Regis Mohawk Mental Health Services began an effort to pull parents into the mix to extend the support system to home life. They held the school’s first parent workshop on the issue in which parents learned of the many stresses teens deal with and how to communicate with a child who is distressed, acting out or openly suicidal.

It never hurts to be prepared, and it certainly can’t hurt to extend a support system to the entire community, she said.

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