Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gunn Crisis Resources

Kimberley Cowell, Assistant Principal

These are difficult times. In response to the recent tragedy, Gunn Guidance Services have revised the Gunn Crisis Resources webpage that contains many resourceful info for students and parents to deal with crisis situations. Copies of the revised list of resources (as of 10/21) are also available on the Main Office and Guidance office counters.

The latest update is a document about teen suicide prepared by KARA, provided below in its entirety.

Please be assured that Counselors and Psychiatrist are available to talk with your students at any time during the school day should they require emotional support for themselves or their friends.

Kimberley Cowell, Assistant Principal
Guidance Services
Gunn High School
(650) 354-8204

For Teachers and Parents
Helping Teens with Grief from Suicide

Be honest with yourself. Recognize that you are grieving too.

Be honest about your feelings. Share what you are feeling with your students, share with them through simple statements and comments about what you do to express and cope.

Be honest with the limits of your knowledge. The death may raise questions about what it feels like to die and what happens after death. You won't be able to answer many of their questions. Ask what they think so you can hear what their actual worries or concerns are.

Provide opportunities for feeling expression. When we grieve it is often a mixture of anger and sadness. Allow time for their tears. Let the students know that crying is a normal reaction to the death of a classmate and of a loved one.

Maintain class and home routine and rules. Students need structure and routine. Even with the interruption of a funeral or memorial service, your return to routine will provide reassurance to the students that life does go on.

Add feeling-related activities to your regular curriculum. The need to express feelings about the loss will continue for all your students. Many people are kinesthetic learners. In particular, the kinesthetic student is particularly comforted by art and writing projects built around feeling themes. Stories about coping with death and loss can be incorporated into the classroom reading activities. It is important to continue to provide opportunities for feeling expression. Talk about the student who died, use their name, remember their life.

Honor and affirm your privileged position. This is a time you have a very healing influence on your students. Showing them how to handle grief in even these small ways will help them in the future.

Words that Do Comfort the Grieving Student
  • I'm sorry.
  • I'm thinking of you.
  • I care.
  • You are so important to me.
  • I'm here for you.
  • I want to help.
  • If I were in your shoes, I think I'd feel that way to.
  • One of my favorite memories of _________ (use the name of the person or pet) is . . .
  • It seems so natural to cry at a time like this.
  • I don't know what to say but I know this must be very difficult for you.
  • Do you feel like talking for a while?
  • How do you feel today?
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL - When an individual is in severe emotional pain, there is often the desire to avoid that pain by "numbing out". Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are readily available to most teens and the use of these chemicals can become particularly attractive while grieving. A survey in a California drug and rehabilitation hospital for adolescents indicated that 86% to 92% of their patients had experienced the loss of someone significant in their life. The majority of these teens revealed that the abuse of these drugs occurred following the death, as they knew no other way out of their pain. Teens need to understand and process highly charged emotions and have concrete tools to assist them in their healing process. Teens need to learn that the use of drugs and alcohol merely puts their grief "on hold" and ultimately prolongs and complicates their recovery.

VIOLENT BEHAVIOR - When a death occurs, teens may be tempted to "strike out" not knowing what to do with their anger. When there is no understanding of the grief process and no safe place to vent these feelings of pain and confusion, violent or reckless behavior may often occur. Approximately 300 incarcerated teens were surveyed at a California Youth Authority facility. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed indicated that someone significant in their life had died. The average number of losses per teen was SIX. Rarely is an individual raised in an environment where anger is understood to be healthy and normal. We are usually punished for displaying anger or told to "calm down". Teens need to learn that anger is a very human response, but with that response comes the responsibility not to hurt ourselves or others. Teens must respect their feelings of anger and design healthy methods for their expression. Anger turned inward can lead to a lifetime of undefined depression.

SELF ESTEEM - A teen who is given the opportunity to understand and process their feelings of loss will feel empowered with the tools to handle losses that will continue to occur throughout life. Rather than becoming victimized, they frequently become our "wounded healers" reaching out to other troubled teens. While we cannot always change the circumstances that occur in life, we do have a choice as to how we will allow it to impact our lives and consequently the lives of those we love.

Observations about Teen Suicides
* The #1 cause of suicide is untreated depression.
This is the key point. Suicide is caused by depression; Depression is an illness that goes untreated because those who suffer are unaware of the cause and/or fear the stigma of "admitting" they have this medical problem.
Most of the time people who kill themselves are very sick with depression or one of the other types of depressive illnesses, which occur when the chemicals in a person's brain get out of balance or become disrupted in some way. Healthy people do not kill themselves.
Getting depression is involuntary - no one asks for it, just like people don't ask to get cancer or diabetes. But, we do know that depression is a treatable illness. That people can feel good again!
In other words, the stress of school, in itself, does not kill students. Making school "less stressful" does a lot to help students in general, but will probably have minimal impact on depressed or suicidal students.
But, talking about suicide or being aware of a suicide that happened in your family or to a close friend does not put you at risk for attempting it, if you are healthy. The only people who are at risk are those who are vulnerable in the first place - vulnerable because of an illness called depression or one of the other depressive illnesses. The risk increases if the illness is not treated.
Talking about suicide is not "contagious".
Why don't people talk about depression and suicide?
The main reason people don't talk about it is because of the stigma. People who suffer from depression are afraid that others will think they are "crazy", which is so untrue. And society still hasn't accepted depressive illnesses like they've accepted other diseases. Alcoholism is a good example - no one ever wanted to talk openly about that, and now look at how society views it. It's a disease that most people feel pretty comfortable discussing with others if it's in their family. They talk of the effect it has had on their lives and different treatment plans. And everyone is educated on the dangers of alcohol and on alcohol prevention. As for suicide, it's a topic that has a long history of being taboo - something that should just be forgotten, kind of swept under the rug. And that's why people keep dying. Suicide is so misunderstood by most people, so the myths are perpetuated. And the taboo prevents people from getting help, and prevents society from learning more about suicide and depression. If everyone were educated on these subjects, many lives could be saved.
Schools can help students suffering from depression feel more comfortable with seeking help. People who are role models can come forward and talk about their own depression, how they have gotten help for it, and have thrived despite depression. Class time and counselor time should be devoted to ensuring that students learn more about depression as an illness and have the opportunity to talk to a counselor without stigma.
Will "talking things out" cure depression?
The studies that have been done on "talk therapy" vs. using antidepressant medication have shown that in some mild depressions, talking to a counselor may ease some of the symptoms. But it has been proven that in severe depressions, talking things out will not cure the illness. It's like trying to talk a person out of having a heart attack. It just won't work. Most of the time, the person needs medication. Studies have shown that a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and antidepressant medication is the most effective way of treating most people who suffer from depression.
This is a very important point. You can't "cheer somebody up" when they are suffering from clinical depression, let alone suicidal. You can't just give them wisdom and perspective. They need professional psychological and medical help.
What should I tell students?"
A more detailed explanation might be: "Our thoughts and feelings come from our brain, and sometimes a person's brain can get very sick - the sickness can cause a person to feel very badly inside. It also makes a person's thoughts get all jumbled and mixed up, so he can't think clearly. Some people can't think of any other way of stopping the hurt they feel inside. They don't understand that they don't have to feel that way, that they can get help." (It's important to note that there are people who were getting help for their depression and died anyway. Just as in other illnesses, a person can receive the best medical treatment and still not survive.)
Students need to know that the person who died loved them, but that because of the illness, the person may have been unable to convey that to them or think about how the children would feel after the loved one's death. They need to know that the suicide was not their fault, and that nothing they said or did, or didn't say or do, caused the death.
Some helpful hotlines and links:
Teen Suicide Santa Clara County Hotline 888-247-7717 (24/7)
Natl. Assoc. of Suicidology 800-suicide
Crisis Line, Santa Clara County (all ages) 408-279-8367
Suicide Hotline, North Santa Clara County 650-494-8420 (Dougy Center for Grieving Children) (Suicide Awareness/Voices for Education)

Kara is an independent, nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation.
457 Kingsley Avenue. Palo Alto, CA 94301-3299.
(650) 321-5272

Kara is the Gothic root of the word "care." It means to reach out, to grieve with, to care, to lament.

No comments :

Post a Comment