By Katie Baker, Program Director for Elyssa’s Mission

Katie blog 10-23-15I had the pleasure of presenting Suicide Prevention Education to parents at Gurrie Middle School in La Grange in preparation of the implementation of the SOS program at the end of October.  For Elyssa’s Mission, it was the most attended parent program to date.  I was enormously impressed by the efforts of the school to make this a success; I therefore wanted to reflect on this experience.

We offer a FREE parent training to all of our school partners.  Unfortunately, this is the most under-utilized service we provide to schools.  When students are identified through SOS as at-risk and in need of services, parents are the critical link to getting their child these potentially life saving services and reinforcing communication about depression and suicide in the home.  It truly takes a village to prevent youth suicide.  All parties must be properly trained and willing to take action when a student needs services.  These supports include school staff, student peers and parents.  The school can be the vehicle to educate staff and students about suicide prevention and identify struggling students but the parents are responsible for closing the gap to treatment.

Schools often tell us that stand-alone parent programs about youth suicide prevention will not be well-attended and, as already mentioned, this has been our experience thus far.  Gurrie Middle School, however, has shown me that working hard to decrease barriers increases participation.  They developed an outstanding model to get parents to attend this program by the following initiatives: distributing a flyer about the event went well in advance that encouraged an RSVP; disseminated a follow-up blast via e-mail or phone; provided bus transportation to and from the school and made childcare available for the duration of the program.  In addition, Gurrie staff ensured that a bilingual Spanish translator was present and parents were provided with headphones to hear my presentation simultaneously translated.  All materials were further translated into Spanish. There is no doubt that much time and resources went into the planning and execution but it was fueled by a strong belief by the Gurrie administration that parents are critical to preventing youth suicide.

A sobering statistic is that 86% of parents cannot identify warning signs of depression and suicide in their child.  This is not only terrifying but life-threatening!  We can’t assume that parents already know the signs and how to help.  Even school staff are not always fully aware of warning signs for depression and suicide prior to our programming.  This is not about blame, but rather recognizing that school communities need more education about youth suicide prevention.  Schools must make parent education about this topic a priority.  My hat is off to Gurrie Middle School and their incredible staff for making this happen!

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