Thursday, July 25, 2024

Suicide Prevention Training in the Schools Begins with Cascade High School


Two Wednesdays per month Cascade School District (CSD) students start school two hours later than normal. Students enjoy a little extra sleep, but the purpose of late starts is to allow staff to have critical team meetings for collaboration and shared learning.

On a recent late start morning, Cascade High School (CHS) staff met over Zoom for an important training on suicide prevention education, led by CSD social worker Katie Schmitten and Cascade Medical psychologist Dr. Maxwell Moholy. Schmitten, Moholy and two of their colleagues have received certification as trainers on this subject through Forefront, which is a Center of Excellence at the University of Washington.

Their certification process and other related expenses were covered by a Community Health Initiatives grant that Cascade Medical Foundation won. In their introduction, Schmitten said, “Trainings like today are some of the most important work we do.”

This is because, as Moholy shared, only about 20% of people who complete a suicide had previously met with a mental health professional in the prior month, and that percent only goes to 33% for the prior year. This shows that mental health professionals aren’t in the day-to-day lives of teenagers like school staff are.

Thus, school staff can be trained to combat the likelihood of suicide ideation and attempt. The presentation began with facts. This includes that suicide affects everyone; when a suicide occurs, on average 147 people are affected by the trauma. Suicide is preventable. Asking someone whether they might be contemplating suicide does not spur it to happen, and suicide results from the combination of multiple factors.

In 2019, 47,511 Americans were lost to suicide and 1.2 million suicide attempts occurred. 3:1 is the ratio of male to female deaths, though the ratio is flipped for attempts, with 3 females attempting for every 1 male attempting. These ratios reflect the fact that males are more likely to use lethal means, such as firearms.

Data from the 2019 WA State’s Healthy Youth Survey showed that 21% of CHS students considered suicide and 40% had experienced a sense of hopelessness for more than two weeks. The factors that come together and push someone toward suicide include a thwarted sense of belonging, a perception of burdensomeness and acquired capability, which can mean access to lethal means but also includes experience (other traumatic experiences) that counter the human drive to survive.

Moholy explained that suicide is not about dying forever but ending a terrible pain. A victim of suicide will have felt a physical and mental exhaustion which might prevent them from reaching out for help. Moholy and Schmitten then shared the acronym LEARN, for the key steps to helping someone if you’re worried.

L = look for signs, such as big changes in behavior or activity from norm.

E = empathize and listen actively without trying to fix the person (because this is not like a physical wound or ailment). They need to feel heard and a sense of connection and have their feelings validated.

A = ask about suicide. The key is being courageous and direct. Vague questions allow for vague answers. One might have to ask more than once.

R = reduce danger by asking the person if there’s a plan and/ or means. Danger reduction also includes identifying allies, barring means and continued frank empathy.

N = next steps of care, and it depends on the situation, but the person cannot be left alone. This training is timely.

“Like every other school district right now, our students’ mental health needs have skyrocketed,” said Schmitten. “I believe it’s our due diligence to meet our students’ mental health needs first and foremost before they can be able to function adequately and put their learning caps on in a classroom. And when I refer to “our due diligence” I am referring to myself, our district staff, coaches, parents, and community members alike. It’s a team effort.

“Also, the conversation of suicide and measures of prevention/intervention/ postvention is a topic that I think our society’s culture tends to shy away from for many reasons. But that makes it even more important to bring to the table and discuss in order to educate and help prevent suicide in the future.”

CSD is committed to continuing the work. “In February, IRMS School Counselor, Dani Steele, and Cascade Medical’s Clinical Social Worker, Aisha Houghton, will be conducting the training for our middle school staff,” said Schmitten.

“After that, we have two trainings in March for our elementary schools. After that, we will conduct trainings for our transportation department, coaches, parents/ community, etc.” While it was a sobering way to start a Wednesday, the training was appreciated. Schmitten said, “We’ve experienced a couple suicides over the past several years, so naturally, it’s difficult for staff to process and be able to talk about too. However, my takeaway, in speaking with staff members, was that it was a good training – informational, tangible, and necessary.”

Considering that whole person health, including mental health, is critical to students’ success in school, it’s key that so many people are coming together to prioritize suicide prevention training. “I would like to thank our school board, superintendent and administrators, along with Cascade Medical Center, of course, for this collaborative partnership and implementation,” said Schmitten

Suicide prevention, School news, cascade high school


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