School district addresses suicide concerns with letter

In the past month, at least six East Pennsboro High School students have attempted or contemplated suicide. The district is now asking parents and guardians for help.

The letter begins, “The subject of suicide, although uncomfortable and frightening, is a real issue for teens.”

It's an unconventional approach for sure.

The thought has long been that confronting suicide head on, in a public way, only sets fuel to the psychological fire of a teen.

Not so, according to Camp Hill-based psychologist Dr. Pauline Wallin.

“If the school sends out a letter, parents may panic and become overly concerned, but at the same time it might save a couple of lives,” said Wallin. “If they haven't been thinking about ending their life, talking about it doesn't put the idea in their head.”

So keep talking, says Wallin, because the cry for help may not always be loud enough to hear.

“They need the attention for some reason. They are really hurting.” She adds that the attention or confrontation must start in a calm manner. “Tell them what you have observed, how they look different then the way they did, and say, 'I'm concerned that you might be thinking of harming yourself or killing yourself.' Then wait….”

Wallin says that by making a comment rather than asking a question, “you are more likely to get an honest answer.”

East Pennsboro School District has formed a Student Assistance Program. It offers a resource for those battling anything from bullying to cutting.

“At some moment they might feel like the only way out is to end their life,” Wallin adds, “and if you can help them hang on for a little bit longer, that moment might very well pass.” outlines these warning signs and advises to take any suicide threat seriously.

Talking about suicide :Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as “I wish I hadn't been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I'd be better off dead.”

Seeking out lethal means: Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

Preoccupation with dealt: Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.

No hope for the future: Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped (“There's no way out”). Belief that things will never get better or change.

Self-loathing, self-hatred: Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden (“Everyone would be better off without me”).

Getting affairs in order: Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.

Saying goodbye: Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again.

Withdrawing from others: Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.

Self-destructive behavior: Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish.”

Sudden sense of calm: A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to commit suicide.

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