M-W launches suicide prevention and awareness efforts at community meeting

| 22 Feb 2012 | 04:48

    500 people hear leading state expert explain what can each of us can do CENTRAL VALLEY - Members of a concerned community gathered at Monroe-Woodbury High School last week to hear Melanie Puorto, director of the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention Initiative, talk to them about the necessity of being well-versed in the topics of suicide awareness and prevention. And there was one theme she stressed to the approximately 500 people in attendance. “Suicide is out there and it needs to be our business,” said Puorto. “No community is immune to suicide. If you get nothing else, you need to come together as a community.” A mixed group of parents, high school students, community, civic, elected and religious leaders attentively watched Puorto’s PowerPoint presentation. The meeting, purposely designed to be informational only, was organized by the Monroe-Woodbury School District and the Monroe-Woodbury PTA Council in response to the recent deaths of two high school students. The district, according to Superintendent Edward Mehrhof and High School Principal David Bernsley, is following the guidance of mental health professionals who are telling the distinct the right course of action is to first have an initial gathering which provides facts and other information on suicide. “Suicide is not just a school issue, it’s an issue that impacts all of us,” Mehrhof said at the meeting. Town hall meetings to be announced Bernsley told the crowd that in conjunction with the Monroe-Woodbury Clergy Association, smaller group meetings would be shortly organized, allowing people an opportunity to talk openly in a more intimate setting about the topic. A meeting was scheduled for yesterday to begin the planning process. “These will resemble town hall meetings,” he said. “Your questions and answers will be here via the Monroe-Woodbury Clergy Association. This is the first step. This is only the beginning.” The group was respectful of the meeting’s parameters and Puorto’s presentation, 'The Competent Community in Suicide Prevention.” In it, she discussed the warning signs parents should be aware of: statements conveying a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness or preoccupation with death; behavioral changes from usual patterns; feelings or moods that seem uncharacteristic for that teen, such as loss of interest or hopelessness; situations that can serve as trigger points for suicidal behaviors such as suicide of another; death of another or losses, getting into trouble at school or with the law; relationship issues; impending changes for which the teen feels scared or unprepared; and conflicts in the home. Feelings, actions, changes, threats or situations that may develop cannot be overlooked, she counseled. “You have to take everything seriously,” said Puorto. “Youth suicide is different than adult suicide. It’s impulsive.” 'Ask directly, be honest’ Puorto offered assessment tips for parents, including: asking the teen about their concerns; listening to the answer; paraphrasing back to the teen what they believe the teen is saying to them to help them see the teen’s world through their eyes; offering to help the teen deal with issues; resolving the problem; and following-through. “Ask directly to get the answers you need,” she said “Be specific, tell them why you are asking questions. Be honest with them and tell them it’s hard to talk about certain things. Practice not under-or overreacting. But act immediately to get help if you have concerns about suicide or your teen talks about suicide. And do not promise secrecy.” Puorto also advised parents to ask their children’s teachers about them and how they feel their children are doing in school; don’t try to minimize or “talk the teen out of their feelings”; and if necessary, ask about suicide directly, remembering that parents will not plant the idea about suicide in someone’s head. “Suicide is an act,” said Puorto. “Unfortunately, it’s an irreversible action. But there is always a solution.” In particular, Puorto also advised parents to monitor online social networking sites if a friend of their child has died by suicide, for at times those sites often become hubs for family and friends to talk about the suicide and memorialize the person who died. The comments on those sites can oftentimes contain unsafe messages and sometimes include messages of suicide ideation by friends or family of the deceased, she explained. The need to start healing And while her focus was primarily on suicide awareness and prevention, Puorto also spoke for a short time on bullying and cyber bullying. Recent national media reports focusing on teen suicides have indicated bullying as a cause for some deaths. “What can we do as a community to build a tighter safety net to protect our kids?” asked Puorto. “We need to start the healing. Suicide is very preventable in your community, not always predictable, but preventable if you tighten the safety net.” No community is immune to suicide. If you get nothing else, you need to come together as a community.” Melanie Puorto, director of the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention Initiative, speaking to approximately 500 people on Jan. 27 at the Monroe-Woodbury School District’s community informational meeting on sudden child death. Sobering numbers The results of a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration study showed that 8.2 million people have had suicidal thoughts in the United States. In addition, 14 percent of all youth between the ages of 10 and 24 have had thoughts of suicide at some point in their life. Statistics released in 2010 by Centers for Disease Control said six percent of that group will attempt suicide. Every two hours and 15 minutes, someone under the age of 25 dies by suicide. Online To view Melanie Puorto’s full PowerPoint presentation, “The Competent Community in Suicide Prevention,” visit: http://www.strausnews.com/photo_news/. Copies of handouts given at the Jan. 27 meeting are also available online: “Parent Awareness Series: Talking to Your Kids about Suicide,” from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide “Responding to Online Users in Crisis,” from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Teen information from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide An Online Postvention Manual addressing social media networking