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'One of the most challenging things I've experienced:' Greenfield School District speak on suicides

Posted at 7:56 PM, Nov 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-27 20:56:34-05

GREENFIELD — After a devastating month and a half, the Greenfield School District shared the difficulties the community has faced.

"It's been one of the most challenging things I've experienced," Paul Thusius, Principal of Greenfield High School said.

Thusius says he's been in education for 31 years. He says the two students who have died by suicide in the last six weeks has taken an emotional toll on everyone.

"There is questioning and people who are upset by things," Thusius said. "Everyone is grieving and what I've noticed over the last few days, is a lot of effort by a lot of people to really try and care for one another."

Parents in the school district have raised concerns about the impact bullying has had on these suicides. Thusius isn't able to comment on specific students but he says when it comes to youth suicide, there is no doubt bullying plays a role.

"Certainly, bullying exists at Greenfield High School and at every school I've ever worked at and any district I've ever worked in," Thusius said.

To combat this issue, the school district is using many resources. The Greenfield Fire and Police Departments and Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee (PSMG) are there to help students who may be struggling.

"As a parent, we want our kids to not hurt," Dr. Barbara Moser, co-chair with PSMG said. "We do lose youth to suicide. This is not just in Greenfield. This is throughout the greater Milwaukee area."

Moser says the issue of youth suicide is very complex. In order to tackle all of the various facets of it, she says it's important to get everyone involved.

"What you need is a community approach," Moser said. "We need to cast a very broad net of safety around kids and really make it everybody's business to notice kids and make sure they're ok."

In the Greenfield School District, they've added more counselors and psychologists in recent years to help. They also use a new curriculum called Signs of Suicide. It's a screening that surveys students for suicidal warning signs. It's something that's proven successful so far.

"I think we have found out kids that were not willing to come say, 'I need a counselor or school psychologist," Monica Garcia-Warnke, Director of Pupil Services said. "I do believe we have had conversations with students who really should have conversations about their well being."

These strategies are some of the many they're implementing in Greenfield. They are meant to tackle a new era in taking care of kids' mental health.

"Kids have access 24/7 to peers," Lisa Elliott, Superintendent of Greenfield School District said. "There's not always that face to face personal interaction. It's a lot easier to say thing son social media that are unkind, hurtful, because you don't have to face the person you're speaking to."

"Texting, Snapchat or Instagram messages, these are quick and often superficial messages that don't convey care," Moser said. "Youth not feeling connected and not feeling like they belong is a factor in suicide risk. That feeling of, I'm alone and I'm isolated is a big factor and that is the problem."

The School District has invested some $400,000 a year in salaries for counselors and psychologists. They currently have five full-time psychologists, up from two in 2012.

But Moser says, one of the most important things is outside of the doors of the school. Parents need to be willing to ask their kids if they're okay.

"Talking about suicide prevention and getting some information in the hands of parents and staff members so they are those trusted adults in the kids life," Moser said. "They can appropriately respond when their kids are expressing distress or noticing things that are expressions of hopelessness."

The Greenfield School District urges anyone having negative thoughts to seek out the following resources for help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Textline Text the word “Hopeline” to 741741
  • Trevor Lifeline (LGBTQ crisis line) 1-866-488-7386
  • Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division
  • Crisis line 1-414-257-7222
  • Children’s Mobile Crisis Team 1-414-266-2932