LaGRANGE — Following the recent death of a student in the district, Keystone Schools held a seminar with the Lorain County Board of Mental Health focusing on suicide, depression and mental health.
The event comes just more than a week after an eighth-grade football player killed himself Oct. 15.
Elizabeth Wolanski, child and adolescent services director at the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, gave the presentation. She, along with three clinicians from Ohio Guidestone and Applewood Centers Inc., gave parents information on the signs of suicide and tips on asking the “tough question.”
“You’ve experienced a loss in your community, other communities have experienced the loss of a young person in the past few years,” she said. “And so you probably have your children, grandchildren are probably asking a lot of questions and that can be scary. So we want to make sure that we’re (connecting) you with the right information.”
Wolanski started by explaining symptoms of depression and how it differs from regular sadness — as well as how it relates to a person’s risk for suicide.
“You can’t have a conversation about suicide without having a conversation about depression,” she said. “There’s a strong link between the two. 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a mental health diagnosis and that diagnosis is usually depression.”
She went on to characterize depression as symptoms that last longer than several weeks or a few months and starts to affect a person’s ability to function. Symptoms include irritability, tiredness, sleeping too much or too little, weight loss or gain, and loss of interest in activities.
Untreated, depression can lead to substance abuse, fighting or loss of relationships, lost days at school or work and heightens a person’s suicide risk. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24 years old. A family history of suicide can also raise a person’s risk, she said.
Warning signs include a child talking about suicide or making “terminal statements,” she said, including things like, “No one would really care if I were gone,” or “It wouldn’t really matter if I didn’t wake up tomorrow.” Other warning signs include feelings of hopelessness, isolation from friends or family, fatigue, giving away possessions and/or aggression.
If someone is exhibiting risk factors, Wolanski said caregivers should not leave someone alone.
“We’re not asking people to be counselors, we’re asking you to be an additional support, and extra set of eyes and ears to help get people connected, to help identify when people are at risk and to help get them connected to the right resources.”
In the wake of the eighth-grader’s sudden death, Wolanski said parents may be trying to answer questions about why things like this happen. She urged attendees to remember that suicide is caused by a range of factors — not just bullying or something similar — and is a complex issue.
“We want to make sure when we are having these conversations … that we’re giving them accurate information about why people suicide. It’s complex, it can be caused by a range of factors and stressors. We want to be able to provide that link between mental illness and suicide and encourage people to seek help for themselves, which will help decrease suicide.”
While conversations around suicide are tough, she said parents must ask about suicidal thoughts, as well as identify who their children are most willing to talk to about those thoughts — be it a counselor, teacher or other adult in their life.
“Ask about suicidal thoughts,” she said. “Every suicide prevention training teachers you how to ask that ‘S’ question. It’s scary, it’s important to ask it directly, ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’ ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?’”
The Lorain County Board of Mental Health offers other trainings surrounding suicide prevention and crisis intervention. For more information, visit lcbmh.org.
Another seminar, covering the same topics, will be 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at Keystone High School. Members of the school’s National Honors Society, FCCLA and Youth-4-Youth will provide free baby- sitting during the seminar.