Teens invited to help save teens’ lives

A suicide-prevention course begins Monday in Battle Ground

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter



‘Helping Hurting Students’

What: A six-week suicide prevention training course for Battle Ground teenagers.

Where: Nixon home, 508 N.W. 13th Circle, Battle Ground.

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays through March 12.

Cost: Free.

Call: Unite 4 Life, 360-356-3797.

Other resources

Clark County Mental Health Crisis Line: 360-696-9560.

Youth Suicide Prevention Program: 1-800-273-8255; 1-866-488-7386 for gay, lesbian or transgender teens.

Clark County Teen Talk: 360-397-2428; 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m. Friday.

211 for help finding mental health resources.

BATTLE GROUND -- On Monday evening, a Battle Ground couple will open their home to host the first session in a six-week series, “Helping Hurting Students.”

The series was put together quickly, and an announcement will be made Monday at Battle Ground High School, which has had three students commit suicide in the past year.

Aaron Chidester of Unite 4 Life, a local nonprofit organization that addresses teen depression and suicide, said he hopes 25 Battle Ground teenagers will show up at Mike and Janette Nixon’s home, 508 N.W. 13th Circle. If more students show up, great. If too many show up to fit into the home, Chidester said, he has a standing offer from Mayor Lisa Walters to move the session to City Hall.

“This is a beginning,” Chidester said Saturday. If the classes go well, he and Battle Ground parent Shawnee Speratos hope to offer the series again, with the goal of reaching out to all of the students in Battle Ground.

Chidester and Speratos spoke Saturday at Starting Grounds Church in Battle Ground as part of an initial effort to form a group to help battle teen suicide.

Mary Jadwisiak, Southwest Washington coordinator of the statewide Youth Suicide Prevention Program, said the school does have suicide prevention programs, but teaching all students, and adults in the community, to identify warning signs and reach out to talk about depression and suicide helps because teens often talk to their friends or another adult before going to a parent.

“We need to talk openly and honestly about suicide,” Jadwisiak said.

Not everyone who’s depressed will be considering suicide, and in about 20 percent of suicides there really are no warning signs, she said. That said, there’s a link between depression and suicide.

Adults may have difficulty identifying that they are depressed, but adolescents have it much harder.

Depression, Jadwisiak said, “sneaks up on you. With kids, they don’t have the life experience to know what it is and that it’s temporary.”

She said when she trains teachers on how to recognize the signs of depression, she mentions anxiety, a persistent feeling of sadness, isolation or challenging authority figures, including older siblings or popular students.

Teachers laugh, she said, because that can also describe typical teenage mood swings.

Nita Yuros, a Battle Ground counselor who currently works at Meadow Glade Adventist Elementary School but who has worked with older children, attended Saturday’s presentation. She said she appreciated that Jadwisiak made a distinction by saying that a warning sign would be worrisome behavior that’s new and lasts for longer than two weeks.

“You wonder, ‘What’s going on? What’s the deal with the dive in grades?’ You’re looking for a trend,” Yuros said.

And instead of calling them “warning signs,” Jadwisiak referred to them as “invitations to ask and tell.” Having outbursts or talking about suicide, having an alcohol or drug problem or withdrawing from friends are all invitations for someone to ask what’s wrong, she said. Parents are often in denial because it’s just too scary for them to consider their child might be considering suicide, she said, or parents worry that if they ask about suicide they’ll be planting the idea in their child’s head.

“People are thinking about suicide already, and they are waiting for you to ask,” Jadwisiak said.

And when you do approach someone, show them that you care about them and don’t be judgmental when they start telling you what’s upsetting them, she said.

If you worry the person might be contemplating suicide, ask a very direct question: Are you thinking that suicide is an option?

Don’t say something vague, such as, “You wouldn’t do anything stupid, would you?” or “Are you going to hurt yourself?” because the person might be thinking suicide is a smart way to end pain forever.

“When we ask a clear question, we get a clear answer,” she said.

The only thing scarier than asking the question is hearing the answer, and if the person answers in the affirmative, then call for professional help.

“Let them know this is not permanent,” she said. “(Say) ‘Yes, this is awful right now. It feels terrible. But it gets better.’”

Chidester started Unite 4 Life when he was a youth pastor in Livermore, Calif.

In 2006, there was a “suicide contagion” in Livermore, with two students committing suicide in six months and several other students making public attempts, he said. It was an upper-middle-class area that didn’t have any suicide prevention resources, so he formed a coalition with other youth pastors, mental health workers, police officers and parents.

Unite 4 Life launched in January 2007 and started doing presentations at schools. Three years ago, Chidester moved to Vancouver; his group now does presentations in Clark County schools.

Monday evening at the Nixon residence, Chidester said, he’ll teach Battle Ground teens to recognize suicide warning signs.

Speratos said Saturday she was moved to do something after she saw how devastated her son, a Battle Ground High School freshman, and her daughter, who attends Chief Umtuch Middle School, felt after David Suetta, a junior, died in January.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.