Suicide Prevention: Learning A Lesson From Our Youth

By Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus
Los Alamos Daily Post

As September’s Suicide Prevention Month comes to a close, a group of caring young people at Los Alamos High School are presenting the Reach Toward Not Away program to every one of our high school students.

Reach Toward Not Away offers:

  • The opportunity to download the Friends Ask APP for smart phones;
  • A telephone number to call for free academic support from the teacher supported New Mexico Homework help line: 1-800-94-study; and
  • A text line for crisis intervention (text 741741).

Students are also invited to sign a pledge committing to reaching out to an adult for support whenever they or friends are struggling with ideas of self-harm or suicide. With the pledge comes a gift card to go with another pledge taker to Ruby Ks to enjoy a bite to eat and a chance to connect.

Reach Toward Not Away was founded by LAHS alumni Sopahn Kellogg who lost a couple of classmates to suicide. This year, the tradition is continued by coordinator and high school Senior Rachel Reynolds and team members Deanna Gutierrez, Jacqui Hargraves, and Vince Marciano.

The 2015 Reach Toward Not Away program is graciously funded by Los Alamos Medical Center in conjunction with Ruby Ks and is supported by our School Board, LAPS administration, and a host of parent and community members. Essential and greatly appreciated assistance is also coming from LAHS teachers and staff.

While this is one way our community is joining together to support young people in healthy living, there are plenty of opportunities for others to add their support.

Our high school students are leading and teaching us lessons while everyone else is invited to help provide support.

Parents often wonder what they can do to help prevent self-harm and suicidal behavior in their children. Dr. Strassburg, MD, a psychiatrist and father of teenagers in Palo Alto, CA, a community where they too have recently had suicides, offers his thoughts on the parental role in suicide prevention.

Dr. Strassbug advocates for and says:

  • Make your teen sleep

Depression is a major factor in most suicides. Depression causes significant disruptions in sleep patterns. However, an emerging body of literature shows that sleep disruptions seem to precede and even precipitate depressive episodes.

  • Talk with your teen

Asking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide. Asking about suicide will not implant the idea of suicide into your teens. Asking about suicide decreases the risk of suicide. So please do ask your teen directly about suicide.

  • Model mental health treatment for your teen

If you want your teen to find the happiness of a balanced life — to sleep properly, eat well, exercise, study, work, play, date, hang with friends, have community, enjoy nature, gain autonomy and competence, adventure, find purpose — you must model these things in your own lives. Children imitate the behaviors of the adults around them (even teens).

  • Want the best for your child, not for your child to be the best

Our community is so intelligent and so educated, and yet the basic sociological concept of “regression to the mean” is misunderstood so widely. The “more” of a quality any parent possesses, the less likely their child will equal or exceed them in that quality. If you are very good at mathematics, your child is unlikely to be as good or better than you. If you are a great musician, maybe they will manage to be a mediocre musician. If you are a polyglot, they may stammer in English alone. And then there is that most damnable anxiety: If you attended an Ivy league college, your child is unlikely to attend an Ivy league college. This hard reality is anathema to all.

  • It’s you and the teachers versus your teen, not you and your teen versus the teachers

Teachers are professionals who are supposed to be our allies in raising our teens, not our enemies. Please know that amongst our local teachers, being labeled a “Palo Alto parent” is not a compliment. This needs to change.

  • Get a pet

For adults, having children is a significant negative risk factor for suicide. In childless adults, I have seen this effect mirrored quite dramatically via pet ownership. Over the years, I have lost count of the number of my suicidal patients who report their lives having been saved by love for their dog or their cat.

  • Keep Calm

To be expansive, we must acknowledge the null hypothesis: Perhaps “whatever can be done” to lessen our suicide rate has been done. Suicide is a rare event, but it is also a leading cause of death in teenagers, and statistics over the phenomenon of suicide clustering remain obtuse.

Since every teen in Los Alamos is unique and special, I often remind myself that our youth are all in different places. As one teen said, these ideas are “not trying to place blame or force unwarranted solutions or advice onto the community.” If parents or students find one of these points useful, then I consider the suggestions useful.

In Los Alamos, there are many organizations and individuals, along with the schools doing their part in suicide prevention. My recommendation is you read the entire article via the link below, share it with your spouse, teenagers, neighbors and friends. We can redefine success in our community, reduce stress, and decrease pressure on our students and ourselves.

Together we can learn to measure success in many ways and find a balance of productive, satisfying lives.

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