Franklin High students open up about suicide

  • Jenn Sumner, a licensed independent clinical social worker at SAU 18, meets with Franklin High School youth leaders Thursday to prepare them to talk to their peers about suicide prevention.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • FROM LEFT: Students David Girtman, Isaiah Tuttle, Christian Shepard and Jake Gagnon sign up for activities to help youths considering suicide. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Over a dozen Franklin High School students part of a youth leadership group, facilitated by Project AWARE, have been trained in talking to their peers about how to prevent youth suicide.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, April 17, 2016

Franklin High School junior Skyler Boudreau said her classmates, if they talk about being depressed or having suicidal thoughts, usually do so among friends.

“Or they’ll just stand up in class and say it,” Boudreau added.

Claire Fifield, another junior, said, “I hear it often.”

What these two students are hearing reflects the recently released findings of the 2015 Youth Behavior Risk Survey for Franklin. It shows that of the 271 students (the school’s total enrollment is 392) that filled out the anonymous survey, 19.3 percent of the student body seriously considered suicide, 9.6 attempted it, and 35.3 percent of the students there felt sad or hopeless for at least two weeks straight.

Those numbers are all as high as or higher than the region, the state, and the 2013 survey for Franklin. Notably, FHS students responded that they had attempted suicide 1.4 times more often than students across New Hampshire.

“It’s not good,” said Jenn Sumner, a licensed independent clinical social worker for SAU 18. Fortunately, Sumner is in year two of five administering the Department of Education grant Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) for the SAU, and just recently completed a day-long suicide prevention training for more than a dozen FHS “youth leaders” March 15.

Those students met again with Sumner recently to plan their next step: training their peers to help youth at risk of suicide. Youth leaders will be going into 10th grade advisory classrooms in May to talk with students, and several will also go with Sumner to discuss the survey results – and suicide prevention – at the Monday Franklin School Board meeting. More will present to freshman students and their parents at the beginning of the next school year.

“Parents are concerned about it,” Sumner told the students.

Students are concerned, too. While waiting in line to sign up for which types of activities she would do, Hanna Rudolph, a sophomore, said she and the other youth leaders were chosen by teachers to do this volunteer work, and given the choice whether to participate or not.

Rudolph said she said “yes” because she thought it would be helpful to discuss suicide prevention with her peers.

“It’s important to be aware of how to deal with it,” she said.

Boudreau said after seeing the survey data on suicide and hopelessness in her school, she wanted to do whatever she could. “I figured if there was something I could do to help, I should,” she said. “Because I go here, too.”

During the recent meeting, Boudreau suggested that she and the other youth leaders not only speak with high school students, but kids at Franklin Middle School, too.

“I feel like that’s where a lot of the issues start,” she said.

One FHS student and youth leader, a junior who requested his name not be used, knew that to be the case. “When I was in 7th grade, I felt isolated from the rest of my grade,” he said. “I was one of those kids that we’re trying to prevent now – I almost committed suicide.”

What stopped him from fully carrying out his attempt, he said, was thinking about all the things he would miss. “I couldn’t go through with it,” he said. He added that it took years to admit to anyone what happened. When he finally did tell a friend, he said, “It felt so good for him to finally know.”

Now, this student and the other youth leaders will be reaching out to classmates to educate them about the warning signs of someone considering suicide, how to reach out, and what kind of help to offer.

The training they’ve received is the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention best practice program, “Recognize and Connect: Youth Suicide Prevention Program.” National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire, or NAMI NH, has been facilitating this training.

During the meeting, Sumner reminded the youth leadership students to put 1-800-273-TALK, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, into their cellphones.

“The key thing they learn,” said Sumner, “is to get a trusted adult on board immediately.”

Adults have been involved in Project AWARE as well, and Sumner said 125 people receive training each year in youth mental health first aid, including school staff.

But students are emerging as powerful, passionate catalysts for change. FHS English teacher Carrie Charette said that when she told her advisory students last spring about the training, two asked whether they would do any, too.

“They wanted to get involved,” Charette said. And, she added, “They’re the first foot soldiers. Students tell other students how they’re feeling – all the time.”

FHS social worker Amber Roux said when she asked students whether they wanted to be part of the youth leadership team, not one said “no,” and she ended up having to turn kids away.

“I think students in this school are passionate about making a difference in their community – they see their peers struggling,” Roux said.

That’s why the junior student, who previously attempted suicide, got on board.

“I knew I had to come because I didn’t want someone else to go through what I went through,” he said.

Those type of struggles do seem to be widespread according to the 2015 Youth Behavior Risk Survey results, but Roux said the data and the community concern help spark action.

“It helps us know what we’re working with and how we can respond in a positive way,” she said.

Sumner said of the youth leadership group, “This is one way we’re starting to try to turn the tide, here. To lower the stats. If they have accurate information about what to do,” she added, “they’re going to save lives.”