Suicide prevention sessions help parents learn how to, and not how to, talk to their kids | VailDaily.com

Suicide prevention sessions help parents learn how to, and not how to, talk to their kids

GYPSUM — Molly Fiore has never been busier. That's both wonderful and terrible.

Fiore is program director with Speak Up Reach Out, a local suicide awareness and prevention organization. Tuesday evening, March 6, found her in front of dozens of concerned parents. Earlier Tuesday, she spoke with more than 100 local middle school students.

A 13-year-old girl took her own life during February, and teen suicide is on everyone's mind.

Parents, students and many others wanted to learn what to look for and how to talk to their kids and friends.

“It’s treatable. Suicide is the most preventable cause of death.”Molly FioreProgram director of Speak Up Reach Out

"I have been doing this work since 2009, and I have never been this busy," Fiore said.

She has done 48 training sessions so far in 2018. She did 30 in all of 2017.

"One of the ways to keep our kids safe is to have a lot of eyes out there," Fiore said.

A few things are absolutely true:

• 90 percent of suicides have their roots in depression.

• Of those 90 percent, 80 percent have mental health problems that are not identified.

• Depression and sadness are not the same thing, Fiore said. Depression is treatable.

"It's treatable," Fiore said. "Suicide is the most preventable cause of death."

Adolescent onset

Most mental illnesses see their onset during adolescence, which can be confusing, Fiore said.

"Some of the symptoms are change in appetite, change in sleep, moodiness, irritability. Did I just describe most teens? Probably." Fiore said.

So how can you tell which is which? Try to determine the impact of the change they're experiencing, Fiore said.

"A mental illness is something that disrupts an individual's ability to live, laugh, love and learn. It's disruptive. If something is disrupting in that change, that's a warning sign," Fiore said.

Fiore was great at soccer, but after her brother died in high school, she quit suddenly and didn't replace it with anything. If an adolescent abandons something but doesn't replace it with anything, then that might be a sign, Fiore said.

Be a trusted adult

Speak Up Reach Out uses a program called SOS: Signs of Suicide. It's designed to help people learn to identify the signs and symptoms of depression in themselves and their friends and how to respond effectively using peer-to-peer messaging with ACT:

Acknowledge that there may be an issue.

• Care, and let your friend know that you do.

• Tell a trusted adult.

Tuesday's session, and sessions scheduled at other schools this month in English and Spanish, was an initial step in training people to be that trusted adult.

"Adolescents need that one adult they can trust to talk to," Fiore said.

Sometimes kids don't want to talk. If they push you away, then explain gently that if their perspective should change, your heart and door is always open, Fiore said. If they don't want to talk to you, then you might find someone else for them to talk to … connect them to resources and people.

Not talking about it is not a viable option, Fiore said.

What to say, and not say

Earlier Tuesday, Fiore spoke with eighth-graders in a local middle school. She asked them for their input. Not surprisingly, they had a bunch:

• "Don't tell me that there are people who have it worse than I do."

• "Take it seriously. What I'm telling you may not seem like a big deal in the wider world, but it's a huge deal in my eyes. If they're sharing it, it's a big deal in their world."

• "Pay attention." Fiore said she is constantly asked, "What if they're just saying this to get attention?" "Of course they are. If they want attention, give them attention. Put down your cell phone."

• "Don't just blow it off."

All kinds of things can trigger violent thoughts, including suicide, Fiore said.

Being bullied will do it. So will being humiliated and embarrassed.

People begin to think they're a burden — "No one wants me here anyway."

In the end, though, people need to know they're loved.

"No one ever went to bed saying, 'Gosh, I wish people would stop loving me so much,'" Fiore said.

She has lived it

Suicide is not always about death, Fiore said.

"To me, it was about pain. I was in unbearable pain. This excruciating, unbearable pain that you don't think is ever going to get better," Fiore said.

"They (kids) don't understand that the pain is temporary. It doesn't seem temporary," Fiore said.

Fiore knows exactly what kids are going through.

She had just started high school when she was called out of a school assembly.

"When that happens, usually you're in super big trouble," Fiore said.

No one told her anything during the long walk to the principal's office. No one told her she was not in trouble … nothing. She didn't know what was going on. She just walked, as her heart and mind both raced.

"That was traumatic enough by itself," Fiore said.

In the principal's office, she looked into the ashen, stricken faces of her family and knew it was something terrible.

Her brother, a senior at that school, had been killed in a car accident.

She didn't handle it well, and neither did anyone around her. For years, no one talked about it, no one mentioned the accident or her dead brother. All the pictures of her brother came down. 

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Through the next few years in high school, teachers and counselors would occasionally pull her out of class, glance at their watches and ask her, "So, you OK?"

She told them she was fine. She wasn't.

"No, I was not OK. Last night I tried to kill myself," Fiore wanted to say.

She didn't. Instead, she replied, "I'm good."

She didn't want the whole class to stare at her as the girl whose brother had just died.

If people don't know what to say, then they say nothing, including her. That's not correct, either.

"This was a dark secret I had been living with for decades," Fiore said. "I was desperate for help."

She didn't get help until she was 35 years old.

She found her trusted adult in a man she hired to help her prepare a motivational speech. She wasn't opening up, and he lovingly was having none of it. She finally did. It was an epiphany; it gave her hope, something she'd been without for the 2 1/2 decades since her brother's death.

"If you don't have hope, nothing you do would make anything any different," Fiore said. "It paralyzes your ability to do."

She learned her feelings were not wrong.

"He made me see that nobody ever got a feeling wrong," she said. "Then he said, 'You can always say what's so for you. At least with me you can.'"

And that's how Fiore came to be in this line of work, helping as many people as possible, one person at a time, beginning with her.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

If You Go …

What: Signs of Suicide: SOS Suicide Prevention Program.

When and where: Next English session is at 6 p.m. Monday, March 12, at Berry Creek Middle School. Spanish sessions are at 6 p.m. Monday, March 19, at Gypsum Creek Middle School; and Monday, March 26, at Battle Mountain High School.

Cost: All sessions are free.

More information: The program is designed to help people learn to identify the signs and symptoms of depression in themselves and their friends and how to respond effectively using peer-to-peer messaging with ACT:

• Acknowledge that there may be an issue.

• Care, and let your friend know that you do,

• Tell a trusted adult.

Learn more at speakupreachout.org.