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NC Schools Combat Suicide with Emotional Education

According to the Parent Resource Program, there are an average of more than 3,000 suicide attempts by high schoolers annually. (Twenty20)
According to the Parent Resource Program, there are an average of more than 3,000 suicide attempts by high schoolers annually. (Twenty20)
June 20, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina public school employees may soon be better equipped to offer mental-health services and emotional education to students, now that the General Assembly has passed a bill that would create programs to support suicide prevention and mental-health services in schools.

It's an effort that Wake County Public Schools already has been employing. The school system begins emotions education in first grade with the program "Funny Tummy Feelings" and continues various lessons in coping skills and problem-solving all the way up through high school.

"We have certainly seen the stressors of life continue to rise," said Kelly Lister, the school system's crisis intervention and prevention specialist, "and I think there's a whole lot that goes into what's complicating our world and our children's world, that continue to make our concern for suicide risk go up."

Teenage girls are seen as a particularly vulnerable population, with instances of suicide among that population increasing lately.

Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to sign the legislation passed last week. The program will be developed by the Department of Public Instruction. NC Child and other organizations are working to ensure the training is frequent and evidence-based.

Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris, who also serves on the Child Fatality Task Force, said that after more than three decades in law enforcement, he believes reducing the availability of guns in homes is an important way to reduce the rising number of suicides.

"Most forms of suicide have a little bit of a window when somebody makes the decision for them to be discovered," he said, "and it's not so much so with a gun, if somebody decides to pull the trigger."

Lister says it's also important to be mindful of how suicide is addressed in the media - and urges news outlets to leave out specific details of someone's death. Instead she says it's important to focus on opportunities to seek help. She adds the current culture of social media only adds to feelings of desperation for some.

"I think our social media is a false sense of reality. People put on their Instagram or their Facebook pictures of mostly happy moments, and somebody who is not feeling well or not feeling connected, have a sense that, 'Everybody's okay but me.'"

Lister said mental-health care is an important way to prevent people from considering suicide to begin with. According to a Youth Behavior and Risk survey from NC Child, nearly one in 10 students in high school have attempted suicide.

People in need of help can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

The legislation is online at ncleg.net.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC