EDMOND — How to observe and act on signs of depression was emphasized Monday as nearly 100 teenagers, children, parents, educators and others turned out for Edmond's first suicide prevention summit.
The event at the University of Central Oklahoma was a communitywide response to seven Edmond deaths by suicide so far this year, including a 14-year-old boy and two 17-year-old boys. Another 15 people have attempted to kill themselves since January.
Edmond police Maj. Steve Thompson said organizers were pleased with the turnout. Among those showing up were two people who sought counseling, he said.
“There was good information passed out to the community tonight,” Thompson said. He said results from an email survey that participants will be asked to complete will be examined to determine whether another summit would be useful.
The summit was sponsored by the Edmond Police Department, Edmond Public Schools, Edmond Family Counseling, the University of Central Oklahoma's Student Counseling Center, OU Medical Center Edmond and Heartline, a nonprofit that deals with suicide prevention.
Susan Parks-Schlepp, Edmond Public Schools public information officer, said organizers sought to focus their efforts on tools teens and adults can use to spot potential suicide risks, how to be alert for potential problems and how people can help a friend who might be at risk.
“In all the suicides we've had in Edmond this year, the only common denominator we can find is depression,” Parks-Schlepp said. She said people who are worried about a friend's behavior need to know what might be done to stave off a tragedy.
Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks said participants can make a difference by using the information presented in six breakout sessions.
“We are trying to be proactive on something that affects us all,” Ricks said.
Jackie Shaw, executive director of Edmond Family Counseling, said suicides have a ripple effect among families and friends, and the summit represents a healthy community response to the suicides that have happened this year.
The positive step, Shaw said, is that the community can “come together to share thoughts and feelings and to learn to help each other.”
Recognize and act
Emphasis was placed Monday night on recognizing signs of distress in others, and knowing what to do.
Rachel Yates, director of suicide prevention and out
Yates presented Heartline's Healthy Education for Life suicide prevention program. Portrayed in a video was the mother of a suicide victim.
In the video, the mother describes the effects of her son's suicide, which included her own depression and subsequent loss of her job and her home.
“Suicide hurts everyone,” the mother said. She said her son had told 12 people he was going to end his life, but no one took him seriously.
Yates also introduced participants to the “Ask, Listen and Tell” process, in which a person concerned about another's behavior can ask what might be going on, listen intently without being judgmental, then be prepared to tell someone who could provide help.
That might be a minister, school counselor, coach or “someone you can trust,” she said.
Sheila Stinnett, counselor at Edmond's Cross Timbers Elementary school, helped lead a session about how adults can spot depression in children. She said some children begin displaying signs as young as age 4 or 5.
“Sometimes it's a feeling,” Stinnett said. “They don't seem like themselves. That may be all you have to go on.”
She and Ken Elliott, also an Edmond school counselor trained in suicide prevention, talked about warning signs of depression including irritability or anger, increased sensitivity to rejection, changes in appetite or social withdrawal.
Stinnett described resiliency as “the ability to get up, bounce back and keep fighting, no matter how often life punches you in the nose. It's an important life skill, one that I see lacking in our kids.”
She said resiliency can be built by helping children identify their feelings, encouraging open communication, teaching problem-solving and supporting a child's outside activities and hobbies. Building a home environment that reinforces emotional safety also is important.
Parks-Schlepp said several of those who attended told her the summit was helpful to them. Several had been affected by suicide, she said.
“Powerful information was shared by the presenters,” Parks-Schlepp said. “We hope that participants gained some knowledge, resources and tools to help themselves or a loved one.”