MANSFIELD -- At the conclusion of the Community Action for Capable Youth’s (CACY) three-day suicide prevention program in Richland County middle school and high schools, the students are asked to anonymously identify someone who they believe has shown risk factors for suicide.
Since “Linking Education and Awareness of Depression and Suicide” (LEADS) launched 18 months ago, the program has been presented to 1,552 Richland County students and 23 have been connected with resources as a result.
“What we have found amazing about this is how often the youth identify themselves,” said CACY executive director, Tracee Anderson. “We find that extremely helpful that the students get to the point where they're willing to say, ‘Hey, you know, I want to receive some help with that.”
Before the LEADS program launched, CACY included suicide prevention in its other curriculums. Whether presenting programs about peer pressure or drug and alcohol abuse, information about suicide and its warning signs was included.
It’s all interconnected, Anderson said. The topics have the potential to impact each other.
Then, the results from a Richland County health assessment showed a greater need. The report completed in early 2017, Anderson recalled, showed 14 percent of youth in sixth through 12th grades had self-reported seriously considering a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.
“When you start to get into double digits and you see that as cross-county, that this is everywhere throughout the county, something had to be done,” Anderson said.
The LEADS program is presented over three days with each session lasting one class period.
“They learn about the symptoms of depression and the possible causes or triggers of depression, as well as what they can do,” said Ohio-certified prevention specialist Tamara Funk. “Then they interactively work together in small groups.”
The classroom might receive a scenario detailing a student who has been “feeling down for some time.” It might explain that the girl in the scenario used to talk to her friends often, but she’s stopped talking with them, saying “It’s not worth the effort.” Further, her grades are dropping.
“You can imagine how kids were like, well I know somebody like that. Or I felt that way last year,” Anderson said. “They start to recognize that the individual symptoms add up and they start to identify that maybe they felt that way when one of their parents were getting divorced.
"They start identifying it with real-life situations.”
It’s this part that Funk and Anderson say is especially important.
“It's helping them to know what to look for and then giving them permission to actually say something,” Anderson said.
She’s seen students say, “Well, that’s not my business.” Through group discussions and lessons, the CACY volunteers look to show students that actually it’s OK.
“We tell them to definitely do something. That's not tattling,” Funk said.
Anderson hopes the discussions around suicide ultimately decrease the stigma around mental illness.
“It’s just like with any other medical condition. Whether someone has diabetes or heart disease or something else, they would go and get treatment for that,” she said. “And there is also treatment available for depression and with that many, really most people find relief of those symptoms through that treatment.”
Prevention efforts like CACY’s, they’re meant to empower teenagers, to let them know there is hope.
The 23 students whose names were divulged at the conclusion of CACY programs in Richland County were immediately connected with school counselors and youth resources in Richland County.
“We want people to know it’s OK to ask for help,” Anderson said.