Saturday, January 18, 2014
Suicides at Brunswick High warrant scrutiny
Recently, two young students at Brunswick High school passed away , and preliminary evidence suggest an all too familiar method, suicide. Like many before them, we are in the early stages of understanding why they may have fallen victim to this silent epidemic, and the public should be cautioned against drawing conclusions before facts are known. With that being said, it is imperative that we highlight several issues that should serve as a roadmap for helping to prevent future preventable deaths.
An allegation involving one of the deaths is that it has a direct link to bullying. The schools have thus far denied knowledge of this and have blamed the outcry on comments made on social media. However, the father of one victim has spoken out that his son did indeed face bullying on a large scale, including actions on the social websites. There is ample evidence that this behavior has occurred throughout this country and so far, little has been done to curtail these demented actions. What is not known at this time, is if the schools were aware of this and if they could have taken preventative actions. Currently, the Brunswick Police have an active investigation on this matter, and we must allow this process to proceed, and appropriate measures for prevention are the result. Additionally, all perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions!
What is truly inspiring is the reaction of the student body, who along with parents, have rallied together in support of anti-bullying programs and demanding action. Their efforts will hopefully lead to significant changes in the way the schools, "and the community at large", respond to any allegation and take appropriate measures. No student should have to live in fear of other classmates! Also, not only schools, but parents need to recognize the many warning signs of depression which is the leading cause of suicide. No one should have to endure the emotional pain that is the result of untreated depression.
After a number of publicized suicides, the ignorant and judgmental people come out in droves. Since mental illness is vastly misunderstood, it would be easy to misconstrue the causation of the deadly act. With that in mind, it is still difficult to understand some of the biting comments that are uttered, written and implied concerning the true victim, the one who commits the act. First off, suicide is NOT a selfish act! It is the result of battling internal demons that no one who has suffered with can understand. Throw on top of a depressed person some outside influences such as bullying, and the pain only intensifies. So often the individual is pushed to the precipice and with a clouded mind, they see no alternatives. People have no right to judge the acts of the one who has ended their lives because they themselves, will hopefully never suffer from such overwhelming grief.
If people wonder what kind of person suffers from suicidal ideation, and attempt to kill themselves, I am one. I went from a respected City Councilman, member of the Jaycees, and various other charitable organizations, to nearly dying of a suicide attempt. It was not until I was forcibly taken by the police into a hospital that I finally decided to accept my illness and the lifetime sentence of treatment that is part of my recovery. It is essential to point out that the individuals who do attempt suicide do not wish to die, they just want the pain to stop!
The first step that must be taken is a review of the Brunswick City Schools policy on suicide prevention. A quick look into the Bylaws show some generic policies that the school explained are in the process of being updated. It is spelled out as a 5 step process; Stabilization, Assessment of the Risk, Use of Appropriate Risk Procedures, Communication with Appropriate Parties, and Follow-up. All of these are standard and generalized, and are likely similar to other school districts.
I must point to one area that stood out. In the bylaws, it stated that teachers should be aware of students exhibiting "Unusual Depression". Though I am not sure it's true meaning, the people involved should be aware of students who are depressed, whose moods have mysteriously shifted, good students that all of a sudden have plummeting grades or are displaying maladaptive behavior.
Next on the list is the schools must begin to educate themselves and students about mental illness and its relation to suicide, and also take appropriate measures to deal with bullying, both in and out of school. The students need to feel comfortable to approach a teacher, a guidance counselor, or a resource officer, that either they or one of their friends are in crisis. Some questions should be; Are students aware of the dangers of cutting, or of reckless behavior? Do they realize that if a friend is in clear crisis that if no one else is available that they can call 911 for help? Most importantly, involve the student body, they will respond positively because in the few schools that have been active in this awareness, they have acted admirably.
The enlightenment that needs to be brought out in this county has been difficult and in some cases nearly impossible. As an example, one need only observe other similar local situations, such as the suicides in the Medina City Schools. The community will discover that there is such a large gap between the public relations aspect of "leaders" showing up after a tragedy and speaking about the need for change, and real change taking place. Since those deaths, in spite of publicity, little or no real progress in educating others on this issue have come to pass.
For many years, when I was to speak to a local school, I invited various community leaders to interact with the students to see firsthand the issues they face. One example is the Office of the Sherriff, who is one that was part of a group that garnered a great deal of publicity by exploiting this exact issue. All past messages and invitations to that office were ignored. Calls to other members of that group resulted in belligerent comments or once again, ignored calls. This was discussed at length in my previous posting "The Politicalization of Suicide Prevention".
Apparently, that behavior has not gone unnoticed. I was pleased to see that the United Way of Medina County has joined me in being openly critical of the lack of suicide prevention in this County. Seth Kujat, the Executive Director of the United Way of Medina said it best in an article in the Medina County Gazette. When asked about can be done to help stem the tide of these unfortunate tragedies, he replied; "That doesn't mean that we need new programs, but it means giving schools and other agencies the resources to amp up what they're already offering." Though I have been at odds with this agency, he is correct that what has been done, is not working!
The first resource available to make changes are the students themselves. I have given many talks to high school students, and they have responded positively and with questions such as; Where can we go for help? However, unless the schools and the parents are willing to discuss the seriousness of these potential tragedies, they will not know where to go.
I read online that the Brunswick students began to use post-it notes on lockers as a symbol of solidarity against bullying and suicide. That is an impressive gesture, but I have another solution for parents and students. Let all of us flood the offices of our local political leaders and tell them enough is enough. It is time to invest in intervention and educational programs dealing with these issues and to make certain no one is left behind.
These needless deaths have reached a crescendo that it is imperative for a meaningful dialogue and action to take place. It is time for citizens who are deeply committed to this issue to finally step up and push the roadblocks out of the way. I can see that many people are angry, and they have right to feel that way. It is time to channel that anger to make the changes needed to help prevent a repeat of these deaths. Stop taking no for an answer, and kick in the doors that inhibit the real changes that are needed. As I have for the past decade, I am here ready to assist. All it takes is a phone call, something I am not used to receiving in this county.