School counselors undergo suicide prevention training
Guidance counselors took on the role of students Tuesday at the Lee Education Center as suicide prevention experts from C.A.R.E.S. administered a new training.
The school district reached an agreement with Community Awareness in Recognizing and Educating on Suicide to provide free prevention training to guidance counselors from elementary and middle schools across Lee County.
Jean Campbell, coordinator of Safe & Drug Free Schools, said counselors typically undergo training four times each year but Tuesday’s training was the first time in many years the subject involved children and suicide. It also served as an opportunity for updated practices to be taught to the counselors.
“We’ve had it over the years but not recently,” said Campbell. “Years ago the philosophy on how to deal with suicide was different.”
Families are affected by suicide every 16 minutes, according to national statistics, and in 2008 the Lee County Medical Examiner reported 108 deaths as a result of suicide. Tara Moser, vice-president and clinical director of C.A.R.E.S., said Lee County’s numbers were shocking given that there were 182 suicide-related deaths in all five counties of Southwest Florida.
“Everyone is affected. There are no demographics to suicide,” said Moser.
This year the medical examiner reported 95 suicide-related deaths from January to November, but Moser said it’s likely the number will be higher once officials examine the month of December.
Acts of suicide have been growing among Lee County adults aged 40-50, said Moser, mainly because of one undeniable issue — the economy. She’s worked with families who have experienced the death of a loved one as old as 94 and as young as 5 — one child planning to commit suicide by jumping out of a moving car.
What Moser was educating area guidance counselors in was QPR, a psychological version of CPR, which helps to diffuse a suicidal situation. It stands for “question, persuade and refer” and can be used by pretty much anyone, regardless of that person’s background.
Last year C.A.R.E.S. administered QPR training to a hostage negotiation team. Moser said that 90 percent of calls are from young people who want to commit suicide by provoking a police officer to shoot them.
And this week they’re offering their expertise to school counselors. Because C.A.R.E.S. experts are volunteers, each of the trainings are given to the school district free-of-charge.
The resource center in Cape Coral has also been training high school students to serve as leaders at their respective schools and they recently founded a GLBT committee to reach out to other students who are questioning their sexuality.
Each of the counselors trained this week are now considered nationally credited “QPR gatekeepers” and will bring their new knowledge to dealing with students at their respective schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 percent of teens have seriously considered suicide at least once.
Campbell said the issue is being dealt with in schools and all over the region.
“We are dealing with it, it’s all over, especially with the economy,” she said.
She pointed out how there aren’t many mental health services for the youth in Lee County.
Lee Mental Health, for example, only has 10 beds for juveniles in its Children’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, a short-term inpatient center for children in crisis. It is often used for children placed in a mental health center under the state’s Baker Act.
Spring is statistically the highest time for suicides because experts theorize that people feel energized during the change of seasons from winter to spring. As that season approaches the officials want to make sure to reach as many people as they can in Southwest Florida to prevent any tragedies.
C.A.R.E.S. is the only suicide prevention center in Southwest Florida. For more information, visit www.leecountycares.org.