A parent of a middle school student who completed the SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program shares how this program helped her entire family. She speaks about how she might never have known about her daughter’s previous suicide attempt had it not been for the SOS program and how this prompted her to talk about this difficult subject with all of her children. The SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program continues to save lives by opening the lines of communication between parents and students about this critical topic.  

The Teenage Years…A time of uncertainty, confusion, mixed emotions and wacky hormones! As a teenager, I thought I “knew it all” and needed no guidance. This mentality led to many bad decisions and consequences. At age 12 I attempted to take my life, but not with the intent to die. My intent was to gain attention from my mother. At age 14, I again attempted and this time nearly succeeded in taking my life. It seemed like everyone else was doing it, so I didn’t think anything of it except that it was an escape. At 14, my intent was to leave this life. As an adult, having survived this attack on myself, I vowed never to reveal that part of my life to my children.

My children… I have seven, 5 girls (18,13,11, 7 & 5) and 2 boys (16 & 10). They are my world! When my eldest son was in middle school, he yelled at me and said he wanted to “just kill himself!” He was in tears. In an instant, I was taken back to the emotions I faced as a teen. How could I allow my child to feel this way, and why didn’t I see it beforehand? I hurdled across the room, pinned him down, and yelled back at him that he was not allowed to say that! This past year, my ten-year-old son was lying on my bed with a pillow over his face. He looked like he was sleeping, so I creeped in and was going to creep out. As I began to walk out, he took the pillow off his face. I looked at him and he had tears rolling down his face and ever so subtly whimpered, “I want to kill myself, I don’t want to be here anymore.” Only a few years later, I faced this again! Why was my youngest son feeling this way, and what could I do? I raised my voice and told him not to say that because had anyone else threatened to take any of my children’s lives, I would’ve gone crazy and taken them down. In both instances, I hugged both of my boys tight and cried. I tried talking with them to see why they felt this way but couldn’t get an answer. This sparked the expedited need for counseling. So now all of my children go to counseling through Pillars. Even with counseling, depression still laid dormant in another one of my babies; however, it finally reared its devious head in the emotions of my daughter.

My daughter is a timid, thirteen-year-old 8th grader in the midst of discovering who she is. She lives with her mother, father, siblings, dog and cat. She has a few close friends and many who are “arm’s length friends.” She loves One Direction, hanging out with her friends, social media and being with her eighteen-year-old sister. When she brought home a permission slip to attend an SOS seminar, I sought her decision, in hopes that she wouldn’t want to go… and she didn’t. I was happy – happy because I felt that if she were to go, it would put ideas in her head about suicide. After all, I was still in the counseling process from her younger brothers’ threat of suicide. I was just fine with her not wanting to go. Her school called her father and gained his permission to allow her to go. They explained to him what the program was, and that it would be beneficial for her. He agreed and granted permission. (I was working and unaware of the phone call).

After working my overnight shift, I received a phone call from one of the district social workers. She told me that my daughter was with her, and explained everything to me. My daughter had attended the Elyssa’s Mission, SOS seminar and was given a questionnaire. In this questionnaire, she revealed that she had attempted suicide within this past year. At this point, I felt like a complete failure. How can I, as a mother, have three children that don’t want to live? What am I doing wrong? Is it genetic? How am I so blind to not see this coming? Do my other children feel this way? Do they really want to go or is it for attention? These were the thoughts, and then some, that were running through my head as I drove to the school to meet with my daughter and her counselor. Once I got there, I tried to act like I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t sure if she knew I knew. The social worker informed me that she was aware that I knew. I then very calmly asked her what happened. My daughter told me that she attempted to take her life by asphyxiation. At this point I broke down. I told her the same thing I told my sons: had anyone else threatened my kids’ lives, they would be down on the ground. I decided to reveal to her, for the purpose of her understanding that she is not the only one, that I had attempted suicide as a teen too. I asked her if she could imagine me not here, and how her siblings would feel if she weren’t here anymore. We cried and cried and hugged and cried. At that point, all I could think of was, had she not gone to the seminar, I would have never found out. My daughter is very private and wouldn’t just tell me like her brothers did.

I am taking classes at the College of DuPage and decided to do a speech on the SOS program. In doing so, I learned so much about the program and about Elyssa’s story. After reading and watching different sources, I stopped feeling guilty and decided that I needed to talk with ALL of my children regarding suicide. From my eighteen-year-old down to my five-year-old, we gathered in our small living room and talked. I began by asking, “How many of you have been so upset that you wanted to hurt yourself?” I was shocked, when every one of them raised their hands! The conversation lasted a while and I used information that I had researched as a means to respond during in our discussion. Specifically, I made sure they knew ACT: Acknowledge, Care and Tell. I let them know that they could talk to each other, teachers and even me or papi (dad).

SOS created, in a bittersweet way, a means of communication for my family. My daughter was able to make known what she had gone through. I was made aware and we were able to come together, as a family, to have an open and real talk about a very sensitive subject. This very same subject I had previously never wanted to discuss with my children in fear that it would put the idea in their head. Boy was I wrong!  With a sincere heart of gratitude, I thank you for bringing this program to my daughter’s school.

Caroyb J. Lewis, LCSW,  Certified School Social Work at Aptakisic Junior High School.

Carolyn J. Lewis, LCSW, Certified School Social Worker at Aptakisic Junior High School.

Carolyn J. Lewis, LCSW, is a Certified School Social Worker at Aptakisic Junior High School. Carolyn shares a wonderful and life-saving story of how an Aptakisic student applied the ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) message on behalf of a student in another state.

I wanted to share a proud, somewhat extraordinary moment with you.  On Tuesday, a teacher brought a student to me whom I’d never met (or even seen).  The student had received an alert from some kind of video chat group she is part of from a friend.  Despite the fact that she had her phone on and was looking at it in class, she saw alarming pictures and captions of a friend sobbing and saying she wants to die because her boyfriend broke up with her.  There were many similar pictures and statements and rather than worrying that she would get in trouble for using her phone in school, she immediately told her teacher.  The teacher told her what we would do and brought her to me.  The girl showed me everything and told me that this friend is someone she has never met in person and that she lives in Pennsylvania.

She allowed me to coach her into what to say to her friend via chat to try to comfort her and elicit more information about where she lives and goes to school.  She was able to find out the nickname of the school and the girl’s last name but that was it.  Last night, she started a chat privately with some of the other members of the group and they all shared their concerns.  She told the group (minus the girl they were concerned about) that she had told me and that we needed to know where she goes to school so I could call the counselor there.  Another member privately chatted with the girl of concern and was able to get the name of the school and share it with my student.

This morning, my student emailed me a screenshot of some of the statement and I contacted the guidance counselor at the girl’s school.  She was able to confirm that the girl is a student there and that they would follow up.  I emailed the screen shot to her.

Later in the day today, I received an email back from the counselor letting me know that they brought the mom into school to tell her everything and they sent them for a crisis evaluation.  They were all so appreciative of us, and so proud of our student, for stepping up.

I followed up with my student several times today to thank her, because really, she is the one who made the difference. She just messaged me that the girl called her tonight to ask if we called her school.  My student was bold and brave, telling her yes, and that she cares about her and was so concerned for her and didn’t want anything to happen to her.

I made sure to let her know that she used ACT perfectly and went above and beyond to keep a friend safe.

I’m kind of on a pride high :). This stuff works!!!

Megan Linane, a parent at Gurrie Middle School and registered nurse offers additional recommendations to parents on connecting with your child, prevention and recognizing when your child may be struggling with warning signs for depression and suicide

A TALC for Children (Parental plan of care for connectedness promotion)

A= Attention. Pay attention to the emotional cues, body language, and words children choose to describe their feelings.

T= Think the unthinkable. The “It’s just a phase” may not be realistic.

A= Ask a professional, is this behavior normal?

L= Love unconditionally and tell them so often.

C= Communicate actively and physically. (Sometimes just quietly sitting beside them on the couch for some time can initiate conversation. Silence often provides time to put thoughts or feelings into words.)

  1. Educate- Parents can teach their children the importance of knowing your emotions, how to manage them, and ways to express them constructively. This enables one to handle stress, control impulses, and motivate oneself to persevere in overcoming obstacles to goal achievement.
  2. Assess Needs- Parents can usually tell when something is bothering their child, use a therapeutic communication technique here. (Broad openings; I can sense that something is bothering you? Is there something you’d like to talk about?)
  3. Identify goals- Nurture the development of self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
  4. Eliminate barriers
    • Electronics. Make sure you are having uninterrupted face to face time with your child. This means you too parents! (Remember the basics: family meal time, routine two minute bedtime chats have a way of turning into twenty, how was your day?)
    • Refuse the parental misconception of “Not My Child,” mental illness does not discriminate.
  5. Provide Role Models- Children often mirror image the emotions of a parent.  Continue to identify your own emotional strengths, weaknesses, and coping skills. (Admit when you lose your emotional control in front of them, nobody’s perfect!)  There is strong evidence suggesting parents need to examine their own parental socialization of emotion (PSE), which has been identified as an important and potentially modifiable component of risk for childhood depression. Parental socialization of emotion has been shown to shape the development of children’s understanding, experience, expression, and regulation of emotion.
  6. Follow up- Every day yields an opportunity for follow up. Meaningful conversations should never be ended, rather paused for the time being and continued and throughout a life time.

In a previous blog post we talked about the successful Parent Program that was held at Gurrie Middle School in La Grange.  Here we have Megan Linane, a Gurrie parent and registered nurse offering her insights in a two-part post.

As a registered nurse, and as mother to a 7th grade girl, I was particularly impressed when a permission slip came home regarding Elyssa’s Mission: Risk factors, Warning signs and How to Help.

Throughout nursing school I have written extensively on the benefits of early assessment and intervention pertaining to the mental health and wellness of children. Nurses always look to evidence-based practice. Elyssa’s Mission, and SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program had my attention at: “listed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for its National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).”

These days, there is a growing trend toward community health interventions, which are designed and implemented to improve the health outcomes of our children. The power of student and parent participation in such programs must not be underestimated.

Parents should know that Elyssa’s Mission is capitalizing on the key components to intervention, which are necessary for the safety of children:

  • Universal interventions target whole school populations with the aim of reducing risk factors or enhancing protective factors across an entire population.
  • Selective interventions target subgroups that are not showing signs of suicidal behavior but that are displaying risk factors that could place them at greater risk in the future.
  • Indicated interventions target children who are already displaying suicidal behavior, for example, those who have expressed intent.

The SOS program teaches the basics of therapeutic communication, a cornerstone skill nurses use to focus in on a specific need of a person in crisis, and how to promote an effective exchange of information. From viewing the video at the Elyssa’s Mission Parent Training, I recognize the use of several therapeutic communication techniques including: giving recognition, offering self, and formulating a plan of action. These techniques are simplified for student development of an instinctual response by using the ACT technique: Acknowledge that there is a problem, Care about your friend and Tell a trusted adult.

As a nurse, I recognize a necessary and appropriate need for a focus on peer intervention. During adolescence, the peer group becomes the primary source of social, and emotional connections. The SOS program capitalizes on this key concept by teaching recognition, and by empowering peers to intervene when confronted with a friend who is exhibiting these symptoms.

Elyssa’s Mission’s Parent Training highlights the fact that most teens who complete or attempt suicide have given some type of warning to loved ones ahead of time. The training goes beyond risk factors, warning signs, and what to do. It proactively separates fact from fiction, teaches parents to instinctively watch and listen for subtle signals, challenges parents to ask questions, encourages parents to practice parental monitoring, and teaches parents how to enforce their duty in keeping children safe online. As a parent, I must encourage this underutilized, and free resource Elyssa’s Mission offers to parents in partnering schools.

Stay Tuned for Part II when Megan Linane relies on her nursing skills to provide additional recommendations for parents

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!

Katie blog 3 10-23-15-5x

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Social media is absolutely everywhere we go. Facebook and Instagram dominate our world.

Snapchat is an iPhone app that enables people to record daily events in their lives. Users have the ability to snap personal photos back and forth. People constantly snap photos of themselves, updating their own personal story.

What makes me insecure is when couples post pictures of each other dating. I’ve never been in a serious relationship; therefore, when I see my peers uploading pictures of themselves with boyfriends, it makes me feel bad. For me, this has been one of the more annoying aspects of social media. A boyfriend is someone you should enjoy spending time with and getting to know. A boyfriend is not an object you brand yourself with and show off every chance you get. A picture is fine, but when couples post excessively it gets extremely annoying. I utilize Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat too. I try to portray that I live a happy life. In reality, I struggle from time to time. In some ways, I probably struggle more than others.

While social media keeps us in touch with our friends, it can make you feel insecure, feeling like you have to keep up. Someone may say the same thing about me when I constantly upload my artwork. Since I am in school right now in graphic design, uploading my artwork makes me feel better about myself. It is the way I validate myself. It is sad we live in an insecure world where every minute people feel the need to validate themselves to keep up with their peers. Social media portrays people’s lives as an illusion. Social media makes me think other people have it so much better than I do, when in reality they could be suffering from mental illness. Social media makes me compare myself to others all the time instead of appreciating all that I have to offer the world.


Stay tuned…Part II to follow

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