Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
February 6, 2019 // Diocese

Diocesan schools train teachers in suicide prevention

Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

Any guess on the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10-34 in the U.S.? Surprisingly, suicide.

Pam Schena, guidance counselor at Holy Family and St. John the Baptist schools in South Bend, noted that suicide continues to be a taboo subject in modern culture. “There is a mistaken belief that if we talk about suicide, we’re putting the idea into a person’s mind,” she said. “What we need to do is be willing to talk not only about suicide but also about the stressors, the beliefs or the mental health issues that drive a person to believe suicide is the only option.”

“Any average person can save a life just by asking how you can help, by offering support and by helping those who are struggling to connect with needed resources,” she continued. “It doesn’t take any special training to ask a person if he or she is thinking about suicide. In simply asking, we can help to open the door to saying, ‘I need help.’ … We are saying, ‘you are more valuable than any problem you may have and I am here for you.’”

Children as young as 8 and 10 years old, of all faith backgrounds, are currently dying due to suicide. Indiana leads the nation in the number of high school-aged students considering and choosing suicide, and in 2016, it took the lives of 436 children — an average of more than one per day.

The support and protection of all human life is intrinsic to Catholic belief. All people are loved and valued, simply for who they are. Made in the image and likeness of God, all people, regardless of age, ability, race, gender, finances, beliefs or background, are important, loved and good. Going forward, it’s a message children in schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will hear more often.

In 2017, Indiana House Bill No. 1430, a suicide awareness and prevention bill, became law. It compels all schools to require that teachers, administrators, staff and other appropriate school employees who work with grades five-12 to attend or participate in evidence-based in-service youth suicide awareness and prevention training every three years.

Because teachers and educational professionals are around students five days a week, they are ideal adults to help prevent such a final decision.

Schena chose QPR Institute: Gatekeeper Training, a peer reviewed, accredited, effective program to educate and share with her professional peers. QPR stands for “Question, Persuade and Refer,” three simple steps anyone can learn in order to help save a life in the midst of a suicidal crisis. It can be adapted for any professional or person to use.

Schena felt the QPR program was helpful in “creating a common language to speak the same message, across the diocese” in assisting students. She first received a grant to receive the training herself. Then, working with the administrative team of the Catholic Schools Office and Mindy Cochran, life skills counselor at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, a schedule was created to visit every diocesan school in just a few short months this past summer and early fall. Each one was a part of and trained in this vital program.

Marsha Jordan, superintendent of Catholic schools, was grateful for the useful and timely training. “We deal with all of the aspects of a student’s life,” she said, adding that the Catholic manner of educating is to form the whole person.

“How to respond to a student contemplating suicide is a vital training to provide. Our two counselors, Pam Schena and Mindy Cochran, were trained to be able to, in turn, provide the necessary training to the 10,000-plus educators in the diocese — a huge undertaking. Even students in elementary school have been assisted because of this training.”

Schena hopes in the future that, “We continue to discuss where we go from here. We will continue to provide prevention and intervention training for staff and faculty. We have also had many schools ask about prevention programs and education for students. I believe the Catholic Schools Office is reviewing the best approach for these types of services for our students. Personally, my hope is that we have opened the conversation and will continue to be prepared to step in and help anyone we see struggling.”

More information on QPR can be found at QPR Institute | Practical and Proven Suicide Prevention Training or by contacting Schena at pschena@hfssb.org.

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