A panel of experts will speak March 29 at North Central High School during the school district’s second annual Community Suicide Prevention Symposium.
The event also will feature a resource fair with representatives from about 20 local health and service organizations.
Chris Moore, a Spokane Public Schools administrator, said the district aims to unite parents, students and service providers to educate the community about self-harm and suicide risk.
“Every week, we have kids that we’re sending to the hospital, and that’s not just Spokane Public Schools,” Moore said. “It’s a community issue.”
The region has been stunned in recent months by the suicide deaths of several prominent people, including Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski and, just this week, Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Troy Schueller.
Suicide deaths have risen sharply across the United States in recent years. Moore called it a public health epidemic. She said parents should know how to spot symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation, how to find resources and, most importantly, how to discuss the issue with their children.
“I liken it to what sex was in the ’60s, in the ’50s. You didn’t talk about it,” Moore said. “Suicide is that taboo word now. Some people truly believe to this day that if you talk to a student and ask them about suicide … you’re planting a seed, and they’re going to go out and kill themselves. And that is so far from the truth.”
Moore noted that suicide is a common theme in movies, music, TV shows and social media, including the controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why,” which is slated to release a second season this year. She said that kind of exposure intensifies the need for parents to know about their children’s emotional well-being.
“We are probably losing lives because we’re not able to talk about it,” she said. “We need to educate our parents that you talk about it.”
Teens at several area high schools have been organizing to shed light on the issue. A student-led group at North Central High School is planning its own suicide-prevention event on April 13.
The district event will begin at 4 p.m. March 29 in the auditorium of North Central, 1600 N. Howard St. The panel discussion will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Speakers will include Moore, Sevan Bussell from the Odyssey Youth Movement, Stacey Okihara from Frontier Behavioral Health, Tom Cutting from Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Sandi Skok from Daybreak Youth Services, Shane Garcia from the Native Project, Jill Yashingsky-Wortman from Gonzaga University and Jackie Smith, a junior at Rogers High School.
Moore also leads Spokane Public Schools’ crisis response team, which includes school psychologists and counselors. The team is deployed when students or staff need help coping with a death or other tragic experience.
Moore said the team is called several times each school year, and “the vast majority have been due to suicides.”
When a student dies by suicide, Moore said, the most common sentiment she hears from teachers and classmates is: “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know. What else could we have done?”
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