Counselors on guard following youth’s death
Help is a phone call away. It could be in the next room. Just ask.
That’s the message counselors and other mental health professionals hope to spread in the wake of the suicide Wednesday of a 15-year-old Eagle Valley High School freshman.
Counselors were at the school all day Thursday, available to any student who wanted to talk. Principal Mark Strakbein visited every class Thursday morning to speak to students and Gypsum Creek Middle School principal Steve Smith talked with seventh and eighth graders at that school, but classes were held as normal.
Parents who wanted to pick their kids up early took home a handful of students. Students were allowed to gather in the school’s courtyard to talk and share their grief in the morning.
“But under advice of professionals, we tried to get the school back to as normal as possible after lunch,” said Gary Rito, director of secondary schools for the Eagle County School District.
That included holding parent-teacher conferences as scheduled Thursday as well as continuing with all scheduled sports and other extracurricular activities that day.
Returning to as normal a schedule as possible is part of a broader strategy of keeping any other youngsters from taking the same drastic step. “We don’t want to glorify this,” said Krista McClinton, regional director of Colorado West Mental Health.
The strategy of getting back on a normal schedule was explained to parents in a letter sent home with every student Thursday afternoon. That letter also included a sheet with advice about loss and helping friends and family members as they grieve.
The death of the student also provided McClinton an opportunity to urge people to seek help. In Colorado, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34, trailing only motor vehicle accidents.
While teenagers often feel as if their problems are unique, “They need to realize that suicide is a permanent solution to what’s most often a temporary problem,” McClinton said. “You can be helped and help is out there, but you have to ask for it.”
That help can come from any number of public and private sources.
“Colorado West can be accessed by calling 911,” McClinton said. “There are counselors in private practice, there are school counselors, churches and even parents.”
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office Victim’s Service office is also available, said Community Relations Officer Kim Andree.
“There’s a lot of good resources out there,” Andree said. “I’d hope someone would choose that.”