Following Tragedy, Northmont School District Learning To Talk About Suicide

Oct 25, 2016

Credit Sarah Fentem / WBAA

Last year, the North Montgomery School Cooperation came face-to-face with tragedy—three of its high school students committed suicide within a 10-month period. Now, the rural district is re-learning how it approaches conversations about the topic.

The North Montgomery school board voted Monday evening to adopt a significantly expanded policy that puts communication—both with students and teachers—front and center when it comes to prevention efforts.

According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana State Department of Health, approximately 20-percent of Indiana high school students said they had considered attempting suicide. Ten percent of those students said they had actually tried to kill themselves.

The state health department recorded 52 suicides by Hoosiers under age 20 in 2014, the most recent year with available data.

Northmont Superintendent Colleen Moran says the previous policy—a single paragraph—only dealt with the aftermath of a suicide.

“It didn’t talk about any prevention or ways to use to professional development for our staff or curriculum for our students,” she says.

The new policy is, by comparison, two pages long and stipulates all school staff, not just teachers, will be trained each year on how to spot risky behaviors in students and how get students the necessary help.

Moran says it’s a concern that takes the whole district to combat…

We have to do our due diligence to ensure safety of students to the extent that’s possible,” she says. “So getting that student referred to help comes naturally to our staff.”

Colleen Moran
Credit Sarah Fentem / WBAA

North Montgomery High Principal Michael Cox says in the past, staff avoided broaching the subject for fear of contributing to additional suicide attempts.

“You got them to someone, you referred them to someone with help,” he says. “You didn’t talk much about it, because we were worried about contagion and things like that. What we found out it is if you use the appropriate talking points it is so important and beneficial to talk about suicide.”

The schools will also integrate suicide prevention education into the curriculum for students in sixth grade and above. 

EDITOR'S NOTE:

As broadcasters, WBAA believes we have, among our primary responsibilities, one to be succinct in our language. Sometimes, groups who use language in a different way than broadcasters may wish to use different words than we’d choose.

In this case, there are several ways to describe a person taking their own life. While this is a horrific topic, especially where children are concerned (as in this story), there is a wide continuum of belief about why suicide happens, how it can be prevented, how much control someone has over the fatal action and how it should be spoken about. 

So we recognize our story comes at a time of discussion about the language used within it. That said, we took guidance from recent NPR stories like these from the past couple months:

Man Arrested In German Bomb Plot Commits Suicide In Jail : NPR

Can Life Insurance Affect The Propensity To Commit Suicide? : NPR

NPR consistently uses the term “commit suicide” and so have we.  We sincerely hope this does not offend anyone in the audience, but saying “died from suicide” is (A) the sort of passive language broadcasters are taught to avoid and (B) not the sort of direct, proactive approach to talking about the topic that the North Montgomery School Corporation appears to be trying to take.

Questions or comments may be e-mailed to WBAA News Director Stan Jastrzebski.