It's not a topic we talk about often in the news, but with recent tragedies at local schools and a sensational new Netflix series, we felt it was important to add context and provide resources for you.
Several parents have e-mailed, called and reached out on Facebook with concerns about several reported suicides within Knox County Schools.
They also raised concerns about the "13 Reasons Why" series. It follows high school students after learning about a classmate's suicide. While some argue it opens a taboo topic for conversation, critics say it glorifies the act.
A spokeswoman for Knox County Schools said they do not track the number of suicides in the school system.
On Tuesday night, the system issued this statement from Superintendent Bob Thomas: "Our hearts go out to the families, students, teachers, staff and community. The loss of life among any of our students weighs heavily on us all, but the loss of life as a result of suicide is devastating.
"It’s a public health issue that Knox County Schools takes very seriously. Our No. 1 concern is for the students, and we have been working with experts to help guide us as we provide support to all impacted."
There is help out there for those in crisis.
There have been 19 students statewide who have taken their own lives since August, according to Scott Ridgway, Executive Director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
It's part of the reason Scott Ridgway of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network was in Knoxville on Tuesday, to work with Knox County Schools to help make sure their students know resources are available to them.
While the district turned down several requests for an interview since Friday to discuss the topic, on Tuesday they sent a statement from Farragut Principal Ryan Siebe.
"We are deeply saddened by the recent tragedies at our school, and our support and condolences go out to the families," Siebe wrote. "The welfare of our students is a concern of every member of our staff, and any loss is heartbreaking to the entire community."
He added that the schools will have on-site counseling for students and staff as long as necessary.
The district will also host an informational meeting for parents about suicide prevention on Thursday. Experts will be available to answer questions.
Knox County has also set up a page with suicide prevention information and resources on their website.
Ridgway said it's important to learn how to spot signs and start that conversation with children because studies have shown there can be a 'contagion' factor to suicides.
Which is why some are so concerned about '13 Reasons Why.' Ridgway explained-- he thinks Netflix should pull the series, but he also sees a benefit in the show bringing that discussion to light.
"I think it's opened the communication, but I think it's important that it's not a typical situation," he said.
"But I would encourage viewers or folks that if their children are wanting to watch this series, that there be some parental supervision. And have that conversation after the series is over."
Knox County Schools did provide its suicide prevention policy, which includes an annual two hour in-service training and requires employees to speak up if they believe a student is at risk.
Warning signs from the Suicide Prevent Network: Previous attempts, verbal threats, behavior or appearance changes, and isolation
Suicide Prevention Resources
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Crisis Text Line: Text TN to 741741 if you're struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Additionally, the peer recovery call center is available in East Tennessee, where those who answer the hotline are have first-hand experience in the area.
"They know exactly what a caller is going through because they've gone through it themselves," said Ben Harrington, CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.
The center can be reached at 1-865-584-9125 between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Lifeline Crisis Chat: Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention services
Knox County Schools' Suicide Post-vention policy
"Immediately following a student suicide death, the school or district crisis team shall meet and develop a postvention plan. At a minimum, the postvention plan shall address the following:
1. Verification of death
2. Preparation of school and/or district response, including support services
3. Informing faculty and staff of a student death;
4. Informing students that a death has occurred;
5. Providing counselors to support students, faculty and staff at the school;
6. Providing information on the resources available to students, faculty and staff.
The crisis team shall work with teachers to identify the students most likely to be impacted by the death in
order to provide additional assistance and counseling if needed. Additionally, staff and faculty will
immediately review suicide warning signs and reporting requirements."
13 Reasons Why Talking Points
The following were developed by the group Suicide Voices Awareness of Education (SAVE) and the Jed Foundation:
- 13 Reasons Why is a fictional story based on a widely known novel and is meant to be a cautionary tale.
- You may have similar experiences and thoughts as some of the characters in 13RW. People often identify with characters they see on TV or in movies. However, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in 13RW and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them.
- If you have watched the show and feel like you need support or someone to talk to reach out. Talk with a friend, family member, a counselor, or therapist. There is always someone who will listen.
- Suicide is not a common response to life’s challenges or adversity. The vast majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other adversity described in 13RW do not die by suicide. In fact, most reach out, talk to others and seek help or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
- Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Hannah's suicide (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic and should be viewed as a tragedy.
- It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. Treatment works.
- Suicide affects everyone and everyone can do something to help if they see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk of suicide.
- Talking opening and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is ok. It will not make someone more suicidal or put the idea of suicide in their mind. If you are concerned about someone, ask them about it.
- Knowing how to acknowledge and respond to someone who shares their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Don’t judge them or their thoughts. Listen. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a crisis line.
- How the guidance counselor in 13RW responds to Hannah's thoughts of suicide is not appropriate and not typical of most counselors. School counselors are professionals and a trustworthy source for help. If your experience with a school counselor is unhelpful, seek other sources of support such as a crisis line.
- While not everyone will know what to say or have a helpful reaction, there are people who do so keep trying to find someone who will help you. If someone tells you they are suicidal, take them seriously and get help.
- When you die you do not get to make a movie or talk to people any more. Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatization produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life.
- Memorializing someone who died by suicide is not a recommended practice. Decorating someone’s locker who died by suicide and/or taking selfies in front of such a memorial is not appropriate and does not honor the life of the person who died by suicide.
- Hannah's tapes blame others for her suicide. Suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss. There are resources and support groups for suicide loss survivors.
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