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Schools unite to fight suicide


Red Deer public and Catholic schools are facing the issue of teen suicide together.

On Wednesday they issued a prepared statement in response to public attention after six teen suicides were reported online by other youth trying to bring awareness to the issue.

Facebook group page, Suicide Awareness Red Deer, it’s #timeforchange, was recently created and dedicated to six young lives lost in the Red Deer area in the past year. The site has attracted 7,396 members to date.

Piet Langstraat, superintendent of Red Deer Public Schools, said over 12 months or so counselling services were put in place for anyone who needed it and Red Deer public and Catholic shared services when necessary.

“It isn’t as if all of a sudden we are all in some sort of crisis mode because of what has occurred. We very much have the support systems in place,” said Langstraat who spoke on behalf of both school jurisdictions.

Counselling space was provided in schools. At one school, for example, a counselling centre was set up in the staff room where either students or staff could go, he said.

“It’s a tricky situation. On the one hand we certainly want to acknowledge the suicides, but we don’t want to highlight that cause of death. It’s important we discuss it as a community for sure. It’s also important that for our students we maintain some normalcy in our schools.”

In response to the suicides, school jurisdictions are supporting students, staff and parents in the following ways:

• Counsellors and family school wellness workers are working directly with individuals in schools.

• Counsellors have been talking to and providing information to students individually and in groups.

• School and district administrators are responding to parent questions and concerns.

• Material and resources are being provided to students and parents requesting information.

• Alberta Health Services mental health therapists are working with families and students experiencing crisis due to these events.

• Services focusing on the well-being of staff are being offered to employees. For example, a compassion fatigue workshop for staff directly involved with recent events is being provided.

• Alberta Health Services - Mental Health, Suicide Information and Education Services and community partners will offer evening information sessions for parents and community members. Details will follow.

• School jurisdictions have been collaborating to provide factual information.

Langstraat said recent deaths by suicide has heightened the awareness of everybody in the community.

“I don’t see it as a high school issue. I see it as an issue beyond the walls of schools. I really do see it as something that the community needs to address. Obviously as a school system, we have a major role to play in that and we certainly have resources to bring to bear.”

The deaths have also brought to light that the community would be wise to have a discussion around what are the supports currently in place and are there additional supports needed in the community.

That’s happening on March 6 at a collaboration meeting to develop a plan for a unified response to critical incidents. Central Alberta Child and Family Services Authority, Alberta Health Services - Mental Health, City of Red Deer, the RCMP and four school jurisdictions surrounding Red Deer will participate.

szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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