Educators and mental health leaders in Monroe and Randolph counties have issued a challenge to their communities – to help pave a path toward recovery for teenagers who feel like they have lost all hope.
The bi-county Regional Office of Education will offer three public forums in the first week of December to provide information to the community on how to recognize mental health issues and prevent suicide.
The effort comes after one Waterloo High School student took his own life and another area student attempted suicide within a month’s time, according to Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis. Waterloo High School lost a student, David Woodall, 18, in October. The regional superintendent declined to provide more information on where the student who attempted to take his own life was from, but said “we have suicides every year.”
In Monroe County between July 11 and November 17, Waterloo-based Human Support Services received 253 calls for help from potential suicide victims, according to the mental health organization. Nearly half were from minors. In Randolph County, 30 percent of calls in the past year were from adolescents, according to Kendra Kennedy, director of counseling for Human Service Center.
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“It has just gotten to the point where we have to connect the dots here,” the regional superintendent said.
It takes a community to identify warning signs and prevent tragic events like one Waterloo saw in October, Davis said, and so he encourages citizens of Randolph and Monroe counties, including parents and teenagers, to attend the sessions. Speakers will give presentations on suicide prevention, and counselors from area mental health organizations will be on hand to talk with students and parents.
Although Monroe and Randolph county schools have trained their teachers in suicide prevention and hosted awareness speakers for students, involving community has become essential, Davis said.
“Waiting and hoping wasn’t enough anymore,” Davis said. “This has to be something we just do in our community, the education of our parents and community on an ongoing basis.”
Involving community is key to addressing self-destructive behavior, said Anne King, chief program officer at the Waterloo-based organization Human Support Services, because teens need to be able to reach out to someone they love and trust if they or someone they know is struggling. If teens don’t feel like they can talk to their parents, they need to be able to talk to a friend’s parent, an educator or another trusted friend who can take action, King said.
But the stigma surrounding mental health issues can prevent teenagers in particular from reaching out.
“Talking about things can make all the difference,” King said. “Pushing those feelings down can sometimes make things so much worse.”
Counselors at the sessions will also be available to talk with parents about how to encourage their children to open up to them, and how to look for signs of suicide.
The office of education is partnering with Human Support Services of Monroe County and Human Service Center of Randolph County to offer the sessions. The Maidez Center, a non-profit organization operated by the Regional Office of Education, is also helping to organize the events.
In addition to the sessions, King encouraged adults and youth alike to consider taking an eight-hour course through Mental Health First Aid, a program on how to respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse. For more information on that program, visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org or call 202-684-7457.
For immediate help with a mental health crisis, call Human Support Services in Monroe County during business hours at 618-939-4444 or the Human Service Center in Sparta at 618-443-3045, in Red Bud at 618-282-6233 or in Chester at 618-826-4547. In an emergency, call 911.
Suicide prevention session information
- The first of three upcoming suicide prevention sessions in Monroe and Randolph counties will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 1 at Waterloo High School.
- Two more presentations will take place in Randolph County during the first week of December.
- Officials have not yet finalized dates for the Randolph County events, but details will be posted on The Maidez Center’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheMaidezCenter or at www.themaidezcenter.org.