LPS highlights supports and resources during Suicide Prevention Month
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Lincoln Public Schools wants to remind everyone there are several resources and supports available for students, families and staff if they or someone they know are struggling with their mental health.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 10-24. Andrea Phillips, school social work coordinator at LPS, said suicide prevention work starts during the summer with staff training.
"One of the first ways we start off the new school year is by training all LPS staff," said Phillips. "We have a suicide prevention training for all staff that's mandatory. Even before school starts they're working on getting that done, and that just spreads awareness about suicide prevention and what to look for in students so they will have that information."
LPS staff are not the only ones receiving training. Students at the middle school and high school level receive Signs of Suicide lessons, or S.O.S., at different points throughout their education. These lessons not only teach the students what to do if they are struggling with their mental health, but also the steps to take if a friend confides in them.
"Sometimes students won't come to us directly, but students know what to look for in other students," explained Phillips. "They may feel like they're needing to keep a secret, but we teach them that it's important not to keep a secret. This is a really serious matter. We really want them to know that it's important to reach out to an adult to keep someone safe, and that it can take just a little reaching out to save a life."
Kaylee, a senior at Lincoln East High School and member of the East Hope Squad, understands the importance of being there for her peers.
"I've been involved ever since I was a freshman. That was the first year that we've ever done this," said Kaylee. "I had a friend that was really struggling with mental health when I was in middle school and so I was always passionate about talking about mental health. Being a three-sport athlete, I've always known that it's super hard sometimes to get through some stuff. It was really inspiring to me to try to make sure that everyone knows what we are, what we do, how we can help."
Hope Squad is a group of students who receive training on how to recognize signs of suicide in peers and point them to the appropriate resources to get help. Kaylee is not only a member of the Hope Squad at Lincoln East, but also serves on the Hope Squad National Council, a group comprised of 36 student members from across the country. Kaylee is currently the only student from Nebraska serving on the council.
"For the Hope Squad National Council, we're doing a lot of conferences with many people that have higher roles, and getting them involved has helped a lot," said Kaylee. "Right now, we're preparing for a conference on Sept. 29, and we're split up into different groups. Each group will have 10 minutes to talk about how you can get more involved with suicide prevention. My group is getting the community involved by telling people around you how to cope differently."
Kaylee knows that not everyone has a support system to turn to when life gets stressful, and talking to an adult right away may seem intimidating to some students. She said even if a student is not involved in Hope Squad, they can still be a listening ear for their peers.
"I think it's super nerve wracking to sometimes go up to somebody that you don't really know and just explain everything that's going on in your life," said Kaylee. "If you feel alone, then you're going to look up to somebody or look forward to talking to somebody that's like you. If you have someone that does the same activities as you, or works at the same job, or looks like you, it's a lot easier to talk to somebody about it. That way, you don't feel as alone."
Along with reaching out to peers or a trusted adult, there is also a QR code on the back of high school students I.D. badges that, once scanned, directly connects them with resources. It's a new feature added to badges this year, and one Kaylee thinks will serve as a good reminder for where to get help.
"I feel like sometimes people don't really know what resources are out there for them," said Kaylee. "But if resources are right in front of you and you can see it every single day, then you know that people are there for you and you can talk to anyone. 988 is a good number to call if you feel like you're struggling with mental health."
Along with suicide prevention lessons and trainings, LPS also provides crisis teams in the event of a tragedy where students and staff may need extra support.
Ursula Vernon-Hansen, a school social worker and the crisis team coordinator at LPS, said these teams rotate throughout the year and are there to help with the grieving and coping process.
"The Crisis Team consists of about 30 staff members," said Vernon-Hansen. "We have psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses who are all on that team. We're going to provide that support. We're going to let those students know that we're there to do individual or short term group counseling, as well. In addition, we will provide other resources. We really want to focus at this point on 'how are you going to go through this grieving process in a healthy manner?'"
Vernon-Hansen said another key part of suicide prevention and coping after a loss is helping parents develop the tools to communicate with their students.
"We encourage parents to talk to their children as much as they possibly can," said Vernon-Hansen. "Of course, we also say, listen, your child may come home and just want to share that information, may not necessarily want any comments, but after there may be a teachable moment where you can explain and share."
Overall, Vernon-Hansen said, it's important to know that even just one person can make a difference.
"That's the most powerful piece that we can teach not only our parents, our staff, but our kids. We have the power. We truly have the power to save a life."
For more information on resources LPS provides, visit the Student Services webpage on the LPS webite.
If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or chat at 988lifeline.org.
Published: September 8, 2022, Updated: September 14, 2022