Promoting a positive environment

WHS counselors aim to educate staff, students and parents about suicide prevention

Help works.

That was the overriding theme of Suicide Prevention Week at Washougal High School.

In an effort to create a healthy school community, counselors Owen Sanford and Christina Mackey coordinated the week-long efforts, which included classroom presentations about recognizing signs of stress and depression, and learning stress management and coping skills.

“The focus was really to make sure we stay as healthy and safe as possible,” Sanford said. “We want to make sure students know there are resources and that help works.”

Suicide is often a touchy subject due its sensitive nature, but prevention research has indicated it is better to discuss it openly and let students know help is available.

“Talking about suicide saves lives,” said Mary Jadwisiak, Youth Suicide Prevention Program coordinator for Clark and Cowlitz counties. “Not talking about it increases the risk. When you have a comprehensive approach at schools, it sets a culture of ‘we can talk about this.’”

Sanford said when kids see adults being honest and up-front about the subject of suicide, they are more likely to do the same.

“Guys especially have this need to be seen as tough and not show emotion,” he said. “But educating them about the challenges they’re facing and how to effectively deal with them is very important.”

Sanford added that it is important to not only educate students, but also staff and parents about the signs of depression and stress, and available resources for those who need help.

“Our goal is to make the school as healthy as possible,” he said.

Jadwisiak assists with that goal by providing free training and consultation to schools, churches or any other community group that needs it.

“I will go anywhere and talk to anyone,” she said.

Carol Boyden, associate principal at WHS, said any effort to encourage a positive connection between students and staff helps create a healthy school community.

“When you talk openly, you lessen the risk,” she said. “When you stay silent, it puts students more at risk. This is another chance to share with students that they are worthwhile. Sometimes, (knowing that) is all it takes.”