Editorial: District’s suicide prevention training for students is important step
The Park Record editorial, Oct. 28-31, 2017
October 28, 2017
The Park City School District should be lauded for taking a critical step in its ongoing effort to address mental health and wellness: giving power to the students.
This year, the district helped create student groups, called HOPE Squads, at Park City High School, Treasure Mountain Junior High School and Ecker Hill Middle School. The goal of the program is to train teens in suicide prevention, providing them with the tools to react quickly if peers come to them with thoughts of self-harm. Nearly 100 students have signed up so far, and counselors are recruiting even more.
It's a common-sense approach in a state where health officials say the suicide rate nearly tripled between 2007 and 2014, especially considering children or teens who are considering committing suicide often tell their peers before anyone else.
Thinking about how many youths are lost in the U.S. every year because their friends didn't know how to help them is harrowing. Perhaps the HOPE Squads can save the next suffering student in Park City, a place that knows all too well what it's like when a preventable death rips away the bright future of a child.
In a way, the HOPE Squads are the result of such a tragedy. It was the overdose deaths of two Treasure Mountain students in September of 2016 (the deaths, it should be noted, were not linked to suicide) that sparked the district into action. School officials pledged to raise awareness about mental health and substance abuse issues both in the community and within school halls.
In the 13 months since, they have made good on that promise, choosing to confront the harsh reality that Park City children are dealing with things like drug use and depression rather than shying away from it. Preparing the students themselves to address those topics is an important step. It's likely that the effort, perhaps more than anything else the district is doing, will also help remove the stigma of mental health issues and make students more likely to speak up when they're in distress.
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School officials have been clear from the beginning, though, that they need help from the community. Parents should follow the district's example and ensure their children, even ones who don't join a HOPE Squad, have an age-appropriate understanding of both how to help a peer who's struggling and how to seek help themselves if they need it.
It's also a good idea for adults to brush up. Every parent in Park City should know how to identify a suicidal child or teen and what steps to take next. The consequences of failing to act because of a lack of knowledge are too great.
That's something school officials clearly understand. Thanks to their efforts, now nearly 100 students throughout the district do, too.
For information about suicide prevention, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. People struggling with suicidal thoughts can also call 1-800-273-8255 for immediate assistance.