Alarmed by the rising number of suicides among teen-agers in Alaska, schools on the Kenai Peninsula are arming their students with education and advice to battle the growing trend.
In Alaska, teens are particularly at risk as the group with the highest suicide rate. For Alaskans ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second-leading cause of death, compared to a lower national ranking as the third-leading cause of death, according to the U.S. Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Kenai Middle School is participating this month in Signs of Suicide (SOS,) a program dedicated to educating teens about depression and teaching appropriate and effective ways to respond to a potential suicide.
“This program came to the attention of various community organizations and they believed it would be beneficial,” said Mark Manuel, counselor at KMS. “The statistics also might indicate a need for awareness.”
Central Peninsula Counseling Services (CPCS) has partnered with the school district to conduct the program using a collaborative prevention grant provided from the state Department of Health and Social Services Division of Behavioral Health.
The optional program already has been conducted this year at Nikiski High School and Kenai Alternative High School. It was originally designed for older teens, but at KMS it will be tested for effectiveness on a younger crowd for the first time, from Jan. 16-18, said Heather Weibel, care coordinator for children’s services at CPCS.
The preventative program has shown success among high schoolers nationally. In areas where the program was implemented, the number of students seeking help has increased 150 percent and suicide attempts dropped 40 percent, according to a study.
Students already exposed to the program in Alaska have responded positively.
“Students are very engaged and ask mature questions,” said Weibel, who is in charge of the project.
“Most of the students know people who have attempted suicide or have been de-pressed. There was a recent suicide in Kenai, and so it does affect our youth today.”
Parents have been sent an informational newsletter de-scribing the project, and there will be a preview of the program open to the public at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the middle school.
“What the community meeting is for is so the parents can see what it is their child is going to be doing on that day,” said Cindy Davis-Bryant, director of clinical operations at CPCS.
Parents and interested community members will be shown the same 17-minute video the students will see and will be given an opportunity to have questions answered.
The video includes dramatizations of scenarios involving young people debating whether to attempt suicide and shows appropriate responses. The video is based on the ACT motto, which stands for ac-knowledge, care and tell.
“It’s informational,” said Manuel from KMS. “It’s based on kids with difficulties getting to an adult for help.”
Parents will be informed of anonymous screening that will be administered to participating students.
“Students will complete a self-screen for depression,” said Davis-Bryant. “They will have the opportunity if they want to speak to a mental health clinician.”
SOS will appear at Skyview in February and another school the committee hasn’t yet determined.
More than 2,500 schools across the country have implemented this program, including five from the peninsula.
From these schools, 90 percent agree that the program brought students in need to the attention of the school, and 94 percent agreed that the program improved communication about suicide between students and school personnel.
“This has been going on in high schools in the national level for a period of time,” said Weibel.
“There is research that shows that it does prevent suicides among youth.”
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