Community rallies to show support following suicide

Community rallies to show support following suicide by David Lias The Saturday suicide of a Vermillion High School student has set into motion a process to help family, friends and peers who are grieving.

A crisis plan was immediately implemented by the Vermillion School District. Students were informed Monday of counseling services available at the high school.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, a standing room only crowd of parents met in the high school library to discuss issues related to helping the community's youth deal with the happenings of this week.

In the course of approximately a year's time, three young people in Vermillion have taken their own lives, heightening concerns about the safety and well-being of young people.

"The crisis plan allows us to act on situations in our school and/or community that will affect students, rather than reacting," said Len Griffith, counselor at Vermillion High School. "The plan has guidelines for how that is all to happen so you aren't just flying by the seat of your pants.

"When situations occur, it's networked throughout our community to emergency personnel, law enforcement, the ministerial association, Social Services, and other counselors and professionals in the community," he added.

The school's crisis management team, made up of school administrators, counselors and other staff, was made aware of the student's death Sunday. It met that day to determine what steps would be taken at Vermillion's public schools.

The purpose of the crisis management team is to maintain the orderly operation of the school and to meet the needs of students, their families and staff in the event of a crisis or tragic loss as defined by the team.

Monday evening's meeting of parents at the high school library was sparked by a sense of growing concern among adults in the community.

"When there is a loss of a teenager, a student, it has a trickle effect for students and parents and peers, and parents were concerned for their own children," Griffith said, "and concerned about bereavement, grieving, processing and helping and networking."

He said the meeting initially had its start when two or three parents talked and decided to make some calls to other parents in Vermillion, asking them to take part in the meeting for dialogue and discussion.

"It was a group of parents who discussed things that would be helpful for each other, in support of each other, and in support of the children," Griffith said.

Parents came away from the meeting, he added, with a commitment to network with other parents, to talk more openly, to listen more carefully and to meet periodically and to create a dialogue with parents and students.

"The parents' meeting was not about the suicide as much as it was about the concern about how they can help their own kids, the impact it has on the numbers and the grieving they are going to go through," Griffith said, "and to keep youth safe not only from suicide, but also from car accidents or drinking or doing wrong things destructively."

Another issue discussed at the meeting, he said, centered on the issue of whether enough is being done by the community, school and families to help students deal with issues before they get to the point of possible suicide.

"The issue isn't about how do you stop suicide," Griffith said. "It's more about how you help kids, how you teach kids to understand how to deal with conflicts in their life and be able to handle, cope, and see their way through those."

The Vermillion School District is continually in the process of updating and re-establishing programs it has in place to help students in all grade levels deal with conflicts, anxieties, and depression.

Griffith said he told parents that there are items that have already been reviewed, and other areas that still need to be explored.

"I told parents 'we want you to be a part of this, but we will distance ourselves before that takes place,'" he said. "By distance, I mean that I would not be in favor of pushing the panic button because we've had three suicides of young people in the course of a year."

Bringing in speakers for seminars or implementing a sudden shift in programming at the high school level wouldn't necessarily be the proper course to take, Griffith said.

"For 27 years, we've had one suicide (at the high school)," he said. "And it's the number two cause of adolescent death."

The school district doesn't want to offer quick, one-time solutions that in the long run provides no help for families.

"We want programming, we want a lifetime and a family commitment, including school, community, parents and students," Griffith said, "to providing the security, the understanding and the education to give them for a lifetime of safety."

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