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Salmon River expands suicide prevention effort

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FORT COVINGTON - 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 SRCS has implemented 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 SOS volunteers sometimes tell her about recommending a suicide hot line and just being there for a friend in need.

The program stresses the importance of telling someone, Ms. Russell said.

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

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

“The cafeteria workers and bus drivers asked the most questions,” Ms. Russell said, mentioning that many programs focus on students, teachers and guidance counselors and don’t consider all the other adults who work with students every day. “A lot of them talked about how important it was and said ‘I feel so much better now that I know.’”

But that’s not all “Lifelines” has to offer — just last week Ms. Russell and her colleague, Christine Venery of St. Regis Mohawk Mental Health Services, tried to pull parents into the mix to extend the support system to home life.

Maybe not a conversation around the dinner table, but more than they’re used to.

Ms. Russell and Ms. Venery held the school’s first parent workshop on the issue entitled “How to Raise Resilient Kids.” There parents learned about the many stresses teens deal with in today’s society and how to communicate with a child who is distressed, acting out or openly suicidal.

“A lot of parents wonder if it’s something they should go to,” Ms. Russell said. “Most people think, ‘Not my child.’”

But 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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