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High School offers Suicide Support

November 6, 2014

by Victoria Addison

Albany High School will host its first International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day on Saturday, November 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students, parents, and members of the community are welcome to attend. The event will be supported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an organization that dedicates itself to understanding and teaching people about suicide prevention.

Albany High School emphasizes the importance of teaching suicide prevention to students and host an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day for students, parents, and community members/Victoria Addison

Albany High School emphasizes the importance of teaching suicide prevention to students and host an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day for students, parents, and community members/Victoria Addison

“I feel like this is going to reach a lot of people beyond teachers and students,” said Liz Gialanella, a school psychologist at Albany High. “This is a brand new thing for our school and I had to work hard to get this here. I am glad that my principal was supportive enough to let us do it.”

The event will offer those who have been affected by suicide a chance to tell their stories. So far, 12 people have signed up to attend.

The staff at Albany High emphasizes the importance of teaching suicide prevention to students, and uses many materials from the American Foundation  in doing so. Students are first introduced to the school’s suicide prevention program in tenth grade during health class.

“It’s not only myself, there’s two school psychologists and there’s five social workers so we split up and go into every health class and do the program,” Gialanella said. The team shows students a video that demonstrates warning signs of depression and also distributes materials from the foundation that focus on surviving a suicide loss or attempt. The staff then stays after the program is over in case students have questions or would like to further discuss the topic.

 “We want kids to be aware if they have been experiencing these feelings to refer and get some help, and usually we have two or three kids afterward who come to us and kind of disclose that this is something they are struggling with,” Gialanella said. “We are looking to increase referrals.”

 The entire staff at the high school is trained in suicide prevention. After this year’s staff training, Gialanella and the two other psychologists at Albany High had five staff members come to them to discuss suicide issues in their families.

“That was really powerful and really useful from not only an awareness and teaching perspective, but a personal perspective,” said Gialanella.

            At the beginning of the year, each staff member is trained using the Lifelines Suicide Prevention Program. The program is evidence based and helps trainees recognize the warning signs associated with thoughts of suicide and also what actions to take when a student exhibits such signs.

            If a student feels suicidal, the school has implemented a crisis plan in which a staff member must identify the warning signs, approach the student in a nonjudgmental manner, and then refer them to a counselor. The nurses’ office has been set up as a safe place for students to go if they are in need of help.

            Currently, the school uses the foundation’s “More Than Sad” program, which teaches students to detect early suicide warning signs, such as depression. Albany High has been working with the foundation for several years according to Laura Marx, the area director of the Capital Region.

            Marx said that it is important to “let kids know people care” so they understand how important it is to talk to someone if they need help.

            Shawn Berman, a former Albany High student who graduated in 2012, experienced the effects of suicide in the Albany High community while he was a student there. He is currently an assistant varsity wrestling coach at Albany High and now studies as a junior at the College of Saint Rose.

            “When I was in tenth grade at Albany High a very popular math teacher committed suicide,” Berman said. “It was a surprise to everyone because she was very well liked. No one would have ever guessed that she would do something like that.”

            The school worked to help students cope with the loss through the establishment of group counseling sessions, and also with a continued emphasis on suicide prevention.

            “I think it’s important for schools to service those that need it because it shows how close knit a community it is,” Berman said. “Everyone is there for each other no matter what the circumstances may be.” –30–

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