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Learning to talk about suicide
A-Suicide Awareness pic1
Community partners like the Office of Behavioral Health Prevention set up booths for the event to offer information and details on available services. - photo by Amy French Dawson County News

Resources for suicide prevention
American Association of Suicidology
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Avita Community Partners
Center for Disease Control
Dawson County Family Connections
Department of Behavior Health and Developmental Disabilities
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Next Generation Clubhouse
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide
Suicide Prevention Action Network-GA
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
The Trevor Project


Suicide is a word barely uttered above a whisper.

Perhaps out of respect. Perhaps out of fear. Maybe it is because of the mystery and the heavy weight of grief that goes with it.

For those who've dealt with it directly, the weight is a burden too great to bear alone or even within a family. A weight that heavy requires the work of many to lift.

In the same way that parents, teachers, students, friends and family teach one another about the dangers of not wearing a helmet or a seatbelt or drinking and driving, suicide is something that necessitates education.

It has to be acknowledged, even named, to be addressed in a way that will bring relief, healing and prevention.

On Monday night the Dawson County School System, in cooperation with a number of local and national partners, offered an educational program to raise awareness and begin talk that can ultimately lead to a community working to lift the weight.

"Our school district and our families-we've lost too many loved ones tragically to death by suicide," said Director of Student Support for Dawson County Schools Janice Darnell.

Darnell hosted the one hour informational session in the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Dawson County High School and gave the 80 to 100 members of the community in attendance vital information for grappling with such a delicate and deep topic.

"What we have learned is that there's no family that is immune from this tragedy," Darnell said. "When suicide occurs it affects more than the family. It affects the school. It affects the work place. It affects the community. These far-reaching effects make it necessary for us to do what we can and learn what we can about trying our best to make sure this does not happen again."

Following the informational session, participants had time to browse booths set up by groups like the Department of Behavior Health and Developmental Disabilities, the Georgia chapter of the Suicide Prevention Action Network and Avita Community Partners.

After the intermission, participants were directed to classrooms where individuals had the freedom to discuss and share their thoughts on the impact of suicide in Dawson County, as well as positive action to take to reduce the numbers of these types of death.

In the most recent reports released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death on a national scale in 2014.

For people ages 10-24, it was second.

In the state of Georgia, it was third.

Whatever the numbers, people agree that even one is too many.

According to the national Alliance on Mental Illness, 90 percent of those who die by suicide have an underlying, treatable mental health condition.

To treat a condition, someone has to know it exists and this is how the community can play a role.

Depression, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are a few of the conditions known to lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors though depression tops the list.

Recognizing symptoms of these medical conditions is crucial for finding help.

Darnell cited the Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide and the concept of establishing what is known as a competent school community.

"In a competent school community you have multiple stakeholders, groups within the community who work together, being concerned for one another," Darnell said. "Students being concerned for other students. Adults being concerned for other adults and students and vice versa.

We all have to look out for one another and the only way to look out for one another is if we are familiar with what to look for."

The warning signs for a person who is considering suicide as defined by the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, can be categorized with the acronym FACTS: feelings, actions, changes, threats and situations.

Darnell touched on examples in the program while the small groups talked through the idea in depth.

Feelings of irritability, anger, guilt and depression along with actions like changes in sleep patterns, changes in peer groups, isolation and saying goodbyes are some of the prominent signs that were noted.

One of the underlying issues for discerning these feelings and actions for students in particular is that many of the behaviors are often already associated with "normal" teen behaviors. Consequently, they are easily overlooked.

School counselors and psychologists on hand to lead discussion groups emphasized however that it is not a single one of these behaviors that should raise red flags, but more an overlapping of them.

The changes that go with the feelings and actions include changes in eating, and weight, drops in grades, change in dress and appearance, as well as expressing what are considered threats or possibly dark writings.

Though no one single sign indicates the imminence of suicide, any threat should not be ignored. Any and all of these signs that are magnified by negative situations like bullying, family changes, loss of a loved one should also always be addressed.

While some participants voiced frustrations, the overall consensus was that this program is merely a first step to providing a voice and support structure for Dawson County students and families.

It is an effort to make a safe place to mention suicide at an audible level.

"I think this is the first step on a path," said Black's Mill Principal Cindy Kinney. "I wish more people had come, but sometimes you have to start small."

Parents acknowledged that it is also a necessary partnership between families and the school system.

The small group discussion time allowed school representatives to communicate with and learn from families and students. Counselors and psychologists gathered information that will be used to shape further actions by the school system, including an upcoming session designed specifically for students.

According to Darnell, the program will take place after the students return from the holiday break.
Education can and should begin at home and the resources available for families, individuals and community members are numerous.

For immediate attention or help, go online to or call 1(800) 273-TALK (8255). Parents can also find a list of resources at