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School district plans meeting Thursday night on 'Talking to your kids about depression, suicide and grief'

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Hastings Star Gazette
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School district plans meeting Thursday night on 'Talking to your kids about depression, suicide and grief'
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

The Hastings school system has planned a meeting for Thursday night to discuss the recent tragedies in the city.

The meeting will be from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Hastings High School auditorium. It is titled: "Talking to your kids about depression, suicide and grief."

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The meeting will be led by Dr. Barb Martin, a clinical psychologist from Allina Clinic, Allina Clinic child psychologist Anne Sabraski and Hastings school district counselor Charlie Black.

According to the district: "This presentation will give you ideas to talk with your kids surrounding the many losses within our own community as well as provide an opportunity for questions and answers."

On Tuesday, the district prepared a lengthy letter it sent home with students and posted on its website.

Included in the letter is information about what the district is doing to address the recent tragedies.

Mike Johnson, the HHS principal, wrote the letter. In it, he said:

"We need help sorting through rumors. We have heard rumors about a suicide 'pact' or 'list' of students. Hastings Police and Dakota County Sheriffs have been outstanding about following up on this and we have not found evidence of a pact or list. It is important to communicate that to you and have you communicate it to other parents.

"Even though it provides the opportunity to provide an intervention, it is taking away valuable time. If you are concerned about students specifically, please call police or your child's school right away.

"Another rumor that you can help with is regarding what our school district is doing to support students and provide resources to students and parents. There has been a rumor that our district has refused to bring in outside support. As you can see from this (letter) we have long, deep relationships with many health care providers, therapists, professional organizations, agencies, churches and specific suicide education and prevention staff.

"We already contract with different kinds of services and have brought in even more, so we are not sure where that rumor came from. I do know people care a great deal, are afraid and want education for themselves and the students, so their heart is in the right place."

Johnson wrote that the staff at the National Association of School Psychologists advised parents of four things to do in response to the suicides in Hastings:

• Look at the suicide prevention and warning signs information (which are included at the end of this article).

• Talk with our children. Know where they are. Stay connected with them. If you believe your child needs support, contact the HHS Counseling Office at 651-480-7488. If your child is finding that they need additional support we recommend that you connect with a health care professional along with communicating with your child's counselor here at HHS.

• Monitor your child's Facebook activity, websites visited and text messages, looking for concerns or warning signs.

• Take extra precautions with any chemicals, alcohol, prescription medications and firearms/weapons within access of children.

Suicide warning signs

Here are suicide warning signs as compiled by the National Association of School Psychologists.

• Suicide notes. These are a very real sign of danger and should be taken seriously.

• Threats. Threats may be direct statements ("I want to die." "I am going to kill myself") or, unfortunately, indirect comments ("The world would be better without me", "Nobody will miss me anyway"). Among teenagers, indirect clues could be offered through joking or through comments in school assignments, particularly creative writing or artwork. Younger children and those who may have some delays in their development may not be able to express their feelings in words, but may provide indirect clues in the form of acting-out, violent behavior, often with threatening or suicidal comments.

• Previous attempts. If a child or teenager has attempted suicide in the past, there is a greater likelihood that he or she will try again. Be very observant of any friends who have tried suicide before.

• Depression (helplessness/ hopelessness). When symptoms of depression include strong thoughts of helplessness and hopelessness, a child or adolescent is possibly at greater risk for suicide. Watch out for behaviors or comments that indicate that your friend is feeling overwhelmed by sadness or pessimistic views of their future.

• "Masked" depression. Sometimes risk-taking behaviors can include acts of aggression, gunplay, and alcohol/substance abuse. While your friend does not acted "depressed," their behavior suggests that they are not concerned about their own safety.

• Final arrangements. This behavior may take many forms. In adolescents, it might be giving away prized possessions such as jewelry, clothing, journals or pictures.

• Efforts to hurt oneself. Self-injury behaviors are warning signs for young children as well as teenagers. Common self-destructive behaviors include running into traffic, jumping from heights, and scratching/cutting/marking the body.

• Inability to concentrate or think clearly. Such problems may be reflected in classroom behavior, homework habits, academic performance, household chores, even conversation. If your friend starts skipping classes, getting poor grades, acting up in class, forgetting or poorly performing chores around the house or talking in a way that suggests they are having trouble concentrating, these might be signs of stress and risk for suicide.

• Changes in physical habits and appearance. Changes include inability to sleep or sleeping all the time, sudden weight gain or loss, disinterest in appearance or hygiene.

• Sudden changes in personality, friends, behaviors. Parents, teachers and friends are often the best observers of sudden changes in suicidal students. Changes can include withdrawing from friends and family, skipping school or classes, loss of involvement in activities that were once important, and avoiding friends.

• Death and suicidal themes. These might appear in classroom drawings, work samples, journals or homework.

• Plan/method/access. A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased interest in guns and other weapons, may seem to have increased access to guns, pills, etc., and/or may talk about or hint at a suicide plan. The greater the planning, the greater the potential for suicide.

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Chad Richardson
Chad Richardson is the publisher and editor at the Hastings Star Gazette. He was the general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He previously worked at the Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.
(651) 319-4500
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