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Suicide prevention class helps identify seven at-risk people

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BATTLEMENT MESA, Colo. – Seventh- and eighth-graders at L. W. St. John Middle School in Battlement Mesa recently learned an important life lesson. A group of volunteer parents and teachers led the two grades through three days of the Teen Link program designed to help teens recognize the risks for suicide in themselves and their friends.Garfield County has one of the highest suicide rates in the state and Colorado has 36 percent higher suicide rate than the rest of the nation. Even more disturbing, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children, teenagers and young adults in Colorado, second only to motor-vehicle deaths.St. John principal Scott Pankow, who reported on the program to the Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition Wednesday, said several students and an adult came to him asking for help.Pankow said he was interested in providing the program because the school had experienced the deaths of two students, Joe Cain, an eighth-grader who died in October 2005 of surgery complications, and Misty Young, a junior at Grand Valley High School who died in November 2005 in a car accident.”The kids were pretty upset and distraught,” Pankow said of his small, 200-student school.He liked the idea of presenting seventh- and eighth-graders with tools to help themselves.”You only know one-third of what’s going on in your child’s life,” he said. “Kids are afraid to share.”

The Teen Link program presents the warning signs of suicide (See information box). It also teaches students to listen “when people talk about suicide,” said Garfield County Public Health Nurse Sandra Barnett, who chairs the county suicide coalition. And it helps students know whom to go to for help.Part of the program included a video Pankow made for the students in the Teen Link classes introducing the school’s two counselors.”A lot of kids didn’t know we have two. I just assumed they did (know),” Pankow said.Pankow said as a result of the classes, six students were identified as being at risk for suicide. One student in particular was mentioned by several students when asked if they knew anyone who was thinking about suicide. An adult involved in the program also came forward.”That’s seven out of 200 (in the school). That’s a big number,” Pankow said.For those students who are now considered to be a risk for suicide, Pankow said the school counselors will check in with them regularly and if they see them showing heightened signs of suicidal behavior, an intervention with trained mental health professionals will take place.Barnett, who volunteered to assist in the program, said the three days of classes focused on the theme, “You can make a difference. You have the power to change things in your life and in the people around you,” she said. “Personally, I was impressed with how (the message) was received.”Pankow agreed that the program was successful.”If you (reach) just one kid it’s worth it,” he said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605dgray@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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