GREENFIELD — If parents think kids as young as elementary school age don’t contemplate suicide, they can think again.
The widespread nature of youth suicide – and how to prevent it – was the focus of a training seminar Thursday geared toward school guidance counselors and social workers.
Each year, Erlewein Mortuary sponsors a speaker who presents to the group on topics involving grief and loss that school professionals can then take to their students.
Thursday, Zoe Frantz of the Jason Foundation, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to raising awareness of youth suicide, spoke to a group of 25 about identifying at-risk students.
The Jason Foundation is named after CEO and President Clark Flatt’s son, Jason, who killed himself at 16 years old in 1997. Looking back, the family found risk factors that, recognized, might have helped them prevent Jason’s death, Frantz said.
Frantz began her presentation by holding up a crisp, $100 bill, and asking who in the room would like to have it. After a chorus of yeses, she crumpled up the bill, tossed it on the floor and stomped on it. While the bill might not be in the best condition, she said, it still is worth $100.
“Our youth sometimes feel stepped on, spit on, wadded up – that they have no value,” she drew as a parallel.
Thoughts of suicide begin happening earlier than most parents would imagine, she said.
It was a point echoed by local guidance counselors.
“I had a 7-year-old that specifically said, ‘I’m going to commit suicide,’” Mt. Vernon Elementary School guidance counselor Katie Williams said.
Jason Foundation data show in Indiana, 13.5 percent of students – one out of every seven – have made a plan to take their own life in the past year. That compares with the national rate of one out of every nine students.
Julie Russell, a guidance counselor at Mt. Vernon Middle School, said the proliferation of technology among younger students has made a difference in how threats are communicated. Recently, Russell contacted a parent after two students came forward to say their friend had made suicidal comments via text message.
“It was very real to them, which scared them,” Russell said.
B.J. Erlewein of Erlewein Mortuary said the annual event gives guidance counselors a chance to refresh their knowledge base on topics of concern to their students.
“These folks see so many kids in a day that if you can touch 25 guidance counselors, you can touch hundreds of kids,” B.J. Erlewein said. “I think that’s important. You’ve got to know who can help you get a message out.”