LCSD works to increase suicide awareness

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Every life is precious to Tess Smith, especially the 10,000 students and 1,500 staff members that are placed under her care. When one of those students does something that she can’t control, Smith – the Lamar County School District Superintendent – feels the grief that stretches from the family to the friends to the school. It’s in her nature.

Because her responsibility stretches such great distances, Smith has asked students, teachers and staff to be aware of their environment, how things change and how people change.

Her message: “If you see something, say something!” Other protectors repeat those words.

With the recent suicide of a local student, Smith said it touched her deeply because of relationships.

“I am truly struggling with our recent loss,” she said. “We work with students and staff continually. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING! It works many times in many cases, but missing just one is too many.”

Ironically, as school personnel were grieving Monday night over the most recent tragedy, the school district’s Board of Education was approving a new policy designed to deal with suicides. The Policy Code: GADAC, is titled “Suicide Prevention Education In-Service Training.”

“The Board of Education of the Lamar County School District recognizes that suicide is a major cause of death among youth and should be taken seriously,” the policy said. “It is the policy of this school district to provide in-service training on suicide prevention education for all school district employees.”

The three positive steps that the district will use to work to reduce student suicides are prevention, intervention and postvention. With prevention, in-service training to all employees provides recognition of the signs of suicidal behavior.

Intervention targets taking action when a referral is warranted and providing support for students. Responding to suicide or a suicide attempt means using the district’s crisis response in postvention.

Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel agrees with Smith that students, teachers and staff must be concerned about what they see.

“A lot of times, there’s indicators,” he said. “Friends will notice. Families sometimes do or don’t notice. Friends sometimes will more readily notice the changes in behavior. If they are standoffish, if they stop hanging out with people they normally do; it can be a lot of things. It can be a lot of different things.”

However, the help may have to come from other resources, Rigel said.

“You may not be the person who can give them the help that they need,” he said. “Say something to somebody, whether it’s a counselor, a teacher, an administrator or the parents. If you see something, say something. You don’t even have to see anything; you can feel it.”

In an open letter to students, Superintendent Smith said school is about more than academics. It is about surviving.

“There may be times that you will not fit in with others,” she wrote. “There may be times that you feel that everyone is against you. You will see that it is often much easier for some than others. Seek a survivor – meaning find someone that has crossed this finish line.”

Students need to find someone who will be there when they need them, Smith wrote. Parents can be those survivors.

“Remember, (adults) made it through,” she wrote. “They know a thing or two. Find one that will understand and support you. Seek a survivor – they are out there! … Seek a survivor, so that they can help you see what you have to offer the world!”

Smith wrote that survivors also can walk with students through troubled times.

“So many stressors that can seem overwhelming often surround you,” she wrote. “There are people who will see you through them. Seek friends who build you up and put you first. Have an adult that you trust that you can to go to in times of stress or need. No issue is too silly or minor if it is an issue that causes you to struggle. There are teachers who truly care about you. Yes, they are busy and want you to succeed academically, but they do care about you as a person. They do want to see what you can become! Seek a survivor – give them a chance to show you that they care.”

Smith wrote that students have to think about a bright future.

“The world is such a beautiful place,” she wrote. “Yes, sometimes you have to look past some things to see it. Look past. Seek your future. Seek a survivor who will see you through life! If you see something, say something!”