SPEAK encourages suicide awareness/prevention

MADISON COUNTY – In January 2017, collaborating groups and institutions launched the SPEAK initiative, which represents “Suicide Prevention Empowerment Awareness Knowledge.”

SPEAK will confront startling statistics: In Alabama, suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10- to 14-year-old children. Suicide is the third leading cause of death — soon to be second — for ages 15-24.

“Yet 90 percent of youth who made a suicide attempt have a treatable psychiatric disorder,” foundation spokesperson Lindsey Wilson said.

“Our role at Madison Hospital is to make sure when we have patients come in with suicidal ideations that we have excellent resources to provide them,” Madison Hospital President Mary Lynne Wright said. “SPEAK certainly will play a beneficial role with its tools.

“So many people that are struggling with thoughts of suicide have nowhere to turn,” Wright said. “We want to make sure we can help them and their families.”

The key players for SPEAK include Huntsville Hospital, Madison City Schools, Madison County Schools, Huntsville City Schools and Huntsville Hospital Foundation. Their objective is to increase suicide awareness in North Alabama.

With this shared goal, the task force has launched a comprehensive, age-appropriate awareness and education program that deals with not only suicide but also self-esteem, bullying, depression, anxiety and social media, Wilson said.

The multi-faceted program primarily will target middle and high school students with several approaches:

* Training for school teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses and school resource officers or SROs in public and private schools. In early 2017, 225 school health professionals attended the first suicide prevention/awareness conference.

* Classroom instruction for eighth- and tenth-grade students in Huntsville and Madison County schools and for seventh- and tenth-grade students in Madison.

* Awareness and education sessions for parents, especially at PTA meetings and community events.

* Continuing-education seminars for physicians.

* A suicide awareness/ prevention app that anyone in the community can use.

The SPEAK task force has pledged to provide free training to all teachers in Madison County. This commitment coincides with the Jason Flatt Act, passed by the Alabama State Legislature in May 2016, which requires all Alabama teachers to receive annual training in youth suicide awareness/prevention to maintain certification.

Brenda Albritton, MCS Behavior Specialist, said the district is “so appreciative of Huntsville Hospital Foundation for providing funding and training for our faculty and students. This was an unfunded state mandate. The SPEAK Committee worked very hard in 2016 to put everything in place for the training this past school year.”

“Crisis Services provided training for our teachers and administrators on what to look for and how to address potential issues,” Albritton said. Seventh- and ninth-graders received information on risk factors, actions to take if they feel suicidal and steps if they are concerned about friends.”

Daniel Whitt, Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Madison City Schools, facilitated a contest for students to design an app, “another way to purposefully reach out and provide students with tools to find help.”

Students at Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools were eligible for the contest. “Though all the artists did a great job, Kaitlin Runnels at James Clemens was ultimately named the winner,” Whitt said.

As a first step, Whitt is requesting “all teachers at middle and high schools to spend a block of time during their weekly advisory periods to push awareness for the app. If all students know about the app and most download it, some students will use it.”

“Our hope is that raising awareness among whole groups like this may catch some students who are not vocal about their depression or suicidal thoughts,” Whitt said. “We know that an app alone can’t tackle this problem, but we believe it will be another catalyst to have real conversations and to form real connections that could prevent even one suicide.”

John A. Jones Jr., MCS Coordinator of Personnel, worked with Leadership Huntsville-Madison County, Leadership Class 30 to assist with the SPEAK app. “My leadership small group, Boxmasters, spoke with several non-profits before deciding to work with SPEAK. We realized suicide had touched all of our lives in some way. (Working on) the suicide app was a great opportunity to give back to the community,” he said.

“Our desire was to help create an app that could be used by students, parents, teachers, veterans and the community as a whole. Knowing the struggles that youth of today face, it is a resource for them to seek help for themselves, friends and family. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death. We’re proud to have been a part of developing this app to hopefully give our youth an alternative,” Jones said.

In summer 2017, SPEAK leaders encouraged teenagers to apply as student ambassadors, who were selected by academic and leadership potential. These high school students will assist at sessions and act as SPEAK promoters.

Huntsville Hospital Foundation provided initial funding for SPEAK with proceeds from the 29th annual Huntsville Classic Dinner/Concert and Golf Tournament in May 2017. The foundation also is seeking grant funding and private donations to sustain the SPEAK program long term.

For more information about SPEAK, visit huntsvillehospitalfoundation.org/get-involved/speak-program.

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