Skyline crisis team urges parents and students to reach out to keep kids safe
Oct 24, 2019 02:34PM
By Heather Lawrence
A group of panelists spoke to Skyline parents Oct. 14 about resilience and preventing self-harm. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Skyline High held a resilience meeting for parents on Oct. 14. The purpose was to teach parents to help their students get through hard times, and ultimately avoid attempts at self-harm.
“If there’s just one thing you take away from this tonight, it’s to reach out,” said Victoria Hatton, school psychologist at Skyline. Hatton conducted most of the evening, starting with a presentation. She covered resilience and signs that students may think of harming themselves.
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress,” Hatton said, quoting the definition from the American Psychological Association.
The presentation was similar to the one given to the student body in the past weeks. To reach as many students as possible, Hatton said they gave the presentation during social studies classes. In addition, resiliency will be worked into the English department’s curriculum. It will be presented through social/emotional learning lessons.
Hatton is at Skyline full time this year, thanks in part to the community council. They purchased part of her contract so she could work full time there.
The time then opened up for a panelist Q&A session. On the panel were Hatton, Skyline Principal Doug Bingham, Suicide Prevention Coordinator Leah Colburn, University of Utah psychiatrist and professor Dr. Doug Gray, USBE Suicide Prevention Specialist Cathy Davis, emergency pediatrician Dr. Chuck Pruitt and Safe UT app representative Denia-Marie Ollerton.
The panel took questions written by parents on notecards. One asked how kids are responding to using the Safe UT app.
“Skyline is in the top three users of the Safe UT app, and that’s a good thing. Talk about the app with your kids. It’s confidential, anonymous and anyone can use it. There is a two minutes or less response time and it’s as easy as sending a text,” Ollerton said.
Another question addresses the stigma of getting help for mental health concerns. “If your child resists or refuses seeking help from a counselor, ask them, ‘Why don’t you want to go? What are you afraid of?’ and then listen,” Gray said.
“I’ve been working in this field for over 25 years. More has happened in the last five years to prevent suicide and reduce the stigma of getting help than in the 20 before then. So we’re seeing improvements,” Gray said.
One parent asked about the protocol the school follows when the death of a student has been reported. “First we verify. We have Resource Officer Ricci to help with that. We don’t want to put out any misinformation.”
Bingham said the next step is to notify the student body, but they have changed the way they do that. “We don’t make a general announcement anymore. We send people, counselors and other staff to every classroom and tell the students in person that one of their classmates has passed away,” Bingham said.
After that, the school informs the parents of the student body, contacts the district, creates a crisis team and focuses on the needs of the “kids who are still here.” They respect the wishes of the family in choosing what information to share.
One parent read a text message question from her daughter who asked about missing homework and getting behind in class due to the grieving process. Hatton and Bingham said that when that happens, students should speak with teachers or with administrators. “They can come tell me, and most teachers would help them get caught up,” Bingham said.
Other questions addressed what to do if kids are joking about suicide. Hatton said that she herself realized she was using language that was inappropriate. “You need to model the correct behavior. I don’t say things like ‘Kill me now’ when I’m stressed out anymore.”
Other panelists discussed the logistics of keeping kids safe. “If you have pills, if you have guns or ammunition, go home tonight and do what you need to do to keep them out of the hands of your kids. I can’t stress that enough,” Colburn said.
Two points focused on what has proven to work, and what hasn’t. The first is asking the question outright: “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” “The Mayo Clinic produced this video, and it discusses asking this question. It has been shown that this question itself doesn’t raise the risk of suicide. It opens the door to a conversation. But it’s a hard question to ask,” Hatton said.
Hatton and Gray both said that whatever the answer is, just listen. When you do reply, make sure what you say is validating and empathetic. And then reach out if appropriate. “There are some secrets you don’t keep,” Gray said.
One thing that is avoided is reporting by the media. “We know that when the media reports a suicide, then more occur. We don’t want it to become a cluster of suicides. So schools have a tightrope to walk between getting out information and keeping kids safe,” Gray said.
The panel all said that parents can model resilience behaviors for kids. “They need to see you reach out for help. They need to know that no one does it alone. They need to see you fall and then get back up again,” Hatton said.
The meeting was well-attended, but could have accommodated hundreds more parents. Someone asked, “How do we engage the parents who aren’t here tonight?” Hatton echoed her theme to reach out. “Post something on social media that you learned tonight, talk to other parents the next time you see them. Don’t just reach out when things are wrong, reach out when you learned something.”
The Safe UT app is available for phones and also as a website at safeut.med.utah.edu. The National Suicide Prevention line and chat is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.