School district works to prevent suicide

  • Sean Dusek, superintendent of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, welcomes students, staff and parents back to school.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, from Sept. 5-11. World Suicide Prevention Day is Saturday.

Alaska has a high rate of suicide. In 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control, our state was ranked second in the nation for death by suicide. In that same year, Alaska was rated the highest in the nation for youth ages 15-24 to die by suicide.

Experts believe that most suicidal individuals do not want to die, and they just want to end the pain they are experiencing. Experts also know that suicidal crises tend to be brief.

Our school district and communities are not immune to this public health issue.

In several of our schools, staff and students are planning activities to provide support and educational opportunities for their peers, including the creation of a Wall of Hope. A Wall of Hope identifies positive aspects in the lives of students to highlight why living is important to them.

We work diligently to recognize the warning signs and provide as much support as we can to those in need. Our schools are staffed with caring adults who are there to help. Our teachers and staff receive training on suicide prevention and how to identify warning signs.

While prevention is our first priority, we know postvention is a critical component of a comprehensive wellness program when faced with the tragedy of suicide in a community. Postvention has the ability to ease distress, break the cycle of suicide, and be a preventative measure.

While the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s overall health and wellness curriculum is in place, a high priority need for our district is further education and supports for suicide prevention. Our goal is to create a network of community mental health providers collaborating to develop a purposeful and coordinated community support that responds quickly and effectively to provide safe havens in response to suicide.

This past spring, several high schools hosted You are Not Alone school assemblies. You are Not Alone is a peer-led youth suicide prevention campaign that includes elements of Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) — an evidence-based training that helps people understand suicide warning signs and how to connect people in crisis to help.

Through a five-year Project AWARE grant, KPBSD will train 125 staff and community members every year on Youth Mental Health First Aid. We are in year two of these trainings. Additionally, KPBSD received the state’s competitive Suicide Awareness Prevention and Postvention Grant (SAPP) and the funds will be used to provide gatekeeper training to staff, students, and any interested community member or organization in the next several years. We will also be developing a suicide awareness toolkit as a community resource.

When suicidal behaviors are detected early, lives can be saved. Please join the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in supporting suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. Together we can reduce the number of lives shaken by a needless and tragic death.

Sean Dusek is the superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

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