Teacher, son take action on student suicides

An Eastview Middle School teacher and her son are trying to raise money so more students can hear American teen-motivational speaker Josh Shipp when he comes to Red Deer in April.

An Eastview Middle School teacher and her son are trying to raise money so more students can hear American teen-motivational speaker Josh Shipp when he comes to Red Deer in April.

This is in light of a number of recent youth suicides that have occurred in Red Deer and Central Alberta.

Shipp is scheduled to speak at Eastview, West Park Middle School and Hunting Hills High School.

Grade 8 teacher Monique Stennes-Koot and her son Jacob Stennes, 14, want as many students as possible in Red Deer public and Catholic schools to see Shipp.

“I’ve been teaching in the district for 25 years. We’ve never had this many kids in one year commit suicide. We’ve had 10 in Central Alberta since last July. Six have affected the kids directly in our school districts,” Stennes-Koot said on Friday.

“Something has to hit these kids. They have to find a coping technique. They have to understand there is more.”

Shipp, 31, is a teen behaviour expert, author of The Teen’s Guide to World Domination, and host of television’s Teen Trouble.

“The thing I love about Josh Shipp is that he comes from a hard-knock life. He was a foster kid. He was abandoned. He was addicted. He had all those strokes against him and he figured out I’d rather be better than bitter and he’s moved on with his life and he just wants to help teens.”

Stennes-Koot used Shipp’s classroom materials in her Grade 7 class last year and both she and her son, who was a student in her class, saw how students connected to Shipp.

Her son wrote letters to service clubs and businesses and others, and raised $9,500 to bring Shipp to Red Deer. Now they want to raise $7,500 more.

Anything extra will be used to purchase Shipp’s resources for local schools.

“We have him booked for one day. But in light of all the stuff that’s happened in Red Deer recently, we’re trying to double his stay so more kids can hear his message and hopefully find some hope.”

University of Calgary researcher Keith Dobson said hopelessness is the single biggest predictor of suicide.

“For a long time there was a focus on the link between depression and suicide. But we’re learning more and more it’s not the most significant risk factor. It’s more psychological factors and other conditions,” Dobson said from Calgary.

People can reach the point of hopelessness for many reasons — the loss of an important relationship, major life transitions they can’t adjust to, terminal illness, chronic depression, bullying, and more.

How a person responds to problems in their life is unpredictable and suicide, like any rare phenomenon, it’s difficult to predict, he said.

“For one person it could be a loss of a limb in a motor vehicle accident and they become hopeless because of that. For someone else, they might see it as a challenge. You really never know.

“We know that in fact many people who start to move towards a sense of despair or helplessness or hopelessness usually try to spontaneously deal with those problems. They’ll try whatever strategies they can think of basically to try to deal with the situation they’re facing.

“And when they run out of options that’s when you start to see the despair and hopelessness emerge.”

Dobson said at that point, some people withdraw. Some might engage in self-harm or destroy things they don’t want other people to find after they die. With adults, there may be acts of completion like apologizing to people they hurt in the past or returning things they borrowed. Acts of completion are less typical in youth.

“In youth, the suicide tends to be more impulsive and a little bit more hard to predict because of that.”

When people start feeling hopeless, the best thing they can do is reach out and let someone provide them with a different perspective, or try to work on the issue with them, he said.

“It’s almost a paradox because the more hopeless you feel, the less likely you are to reach out, but that’s probably when you need to reach out the most.”

Dobson said the biggest thing for parents is to keep the lines of communication open with their children and watch for changes in behaviour. Ask questions and access resources at school or mental health services.

“Some of the things that Alberta Health Services is doing is promoting open dialogue, destigmatization where possible, (making) available services in different formats. I think we’re doing the right things generally, but we need to do more of them.”

Compared to adults, youth see less stigma associated with seeking help for mental health, he said.

“We’re finding people who are younger more willing to talk about emotional distress. I think it’s a good sign for the future.”

Donations for students to see Josh Shipp can be dropped off at Eastview Middle School, 3929 40th Ave. For more information, call Stennes-Koot at the school at 403-343-2455.

To find out more about Shipp, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5x1Jw1FapY or go to his website at http://joshshipp.com/curriculum.html

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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