September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the Rockville Centre School District will recognize it by training staff on the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to prevent it. “You hate to say you have to learn from the experience of a few families in the community who have suffered through the worst tragedy you could imagine,” Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said. “Now it’s time to look at ways in which we can engage the community, both the children and their families.”
At the Sept. 5 Board of Education meeting, the administration discussed a new building-level training program for staff this month called Suicide Safety for Teachers.
“Our community is keenly aware of the importance of raising awareness about this difficult topic and mindful of the importance of educating staff and students,” said Dr. Noreen Leahy, the district’s assistant superintendent of pupil personnel services and special education. “We are implementing programs for suicide prevention, intervention and post-vention.”
Leahy explained that the program, facilitated by mental health specialist Debra Caputo, provides personalized instruction for staff at each building so that everyone learns about available resources — including staff on hand to help in each school — as well as suicide’s signs and symptoms. The program also addresses how to handle the situation after suicide, which experts in the field call “post-vention.”
“We are also working with principals to help them be more mindful,” Leahy said, noting that Caputo would be working with the district for the next two years. “It could take up to two years to ‘right’ everyone emotionally after a tragedy.”
The district hired an elementary school counselor this year, and Leahy said she has already come up with suggestions to aid in prevention.
“We’re really hoping this combination of efforts in September will mark the month and make sure everyone never forgets, stays vigilant and ready to keep our students and staff safe,” Leahy said.
Board of Education Trustee John O’Shea, whose son Ryan died by suicide early this year, said, “I am so grateful for what this district has done and the strides it has made in correcting a societal wrong of never talking about suicide.”
O’Shea founded the Ryan O’Shea Foundation after the death of his son and has worked to raise awareness of the topic in the community. He said that in 2017, a total of 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States. That year, 47,173 people died by suicide. In both cases, that equals roughly 130 deaths per day, yet suicide does not receive the same attention that the opioid crisis does, O’Shea said.
“The numbers are staggering,” he said. “We need to start talking about it, and we have. We need to change the stigma attached to talking about suicide,” which is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 34, he said.
“Together we must learn about warning signs, the risk factors and the ways to prevent suicide,” O’Shea continued. “Together we can end the epidemic that suicide has become. This community has come together — we need to stick together, tackle these problems and show people that it can be done.”
“I’m grateful to be a part of a district that is continuing to tackle this mental health crisis,” board secretary Kelly Barry said, “and happy that our entire staff is getting trained early in the year, and continuing the conversation, and working together on this important issue.”
For those in need of support, the Long Island Crisis Center’s 24/7 hotline is (516) 679-1111, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255.