If you see a lot of lime green at metro-area high school football games this month and want to ask what it's about, be prepared to talk about a sensitive subject.
Four school districts — Edmond, Mid-Del, Putnam City and Moore — are participating in a joint program this month called “Time to Talk.” The program focuses on suicide and breaking down the stigma around the subject.
The schools are partnering with the state Mental Health and Education Departments, HeartLine Inc. and a variety of nonprofits and corporate sponsors for the project, which kicked off Thursday at the Southmoore vs. Carl Albert football game.
Players from both schools wore bright green socks, towels and wristbands with the Time to Talk logo. Schools will also provide suicide curriculum to students.
All of this is intended to make kids more comfortable discussing the subject with people who can help, recognizing warning signs and realizing that mental health is important, said Lisa Harper, director of development for HeartLine, which runs the suicide prevention hotline for every county in the state other than Tulsa County.
“Reducing stigma is extremely important,” Harper said. “It keeps people from asking for help. We see that especially with youth. They don't want to go to parents or adults.”
Julie Geddes, senior field representative for suicide prevention at the state Mental Health Department, credited Maj. Gen. Myles Deering for coming up with the idea.
Deering, the state's adjutant general, commands the Oklahoma National Guard. He said the Guard has worked hard in recent years to address suicide and mental health for soldiers returning from combat duty.
Deering's wife, Pam Deering, is superintendent of Mid-Del Schools. Schools are on the front lines in dealing with suicide among youth, the second leading cause of death among those ages 10-24 in Oklahoma. In talking about the subject, the Deerings realized a community effort to address the problem was needed.
“We have way too many young people, some of them very young, who are taking their own lives,” Myles Deering said. “One suicide is one too many, and I think it's important that we work together to reduce these tragedies.”
There are suicide prevention programs in place across the state, but Geddes said resources are a problem. Having the National Guard and other public and private partners involved will help the message reach more people, she said.
“Often we can't do everything that needs to be done,” Geddes said. “The fact that we don't talk about it often just gives more drama. It makes it harder to reach out.”
Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said the curriculum being used in the program isn't new, but it works. And Time to Talk will allow schools to use it for free.
“If there is a suicide in the schools, it provides some extra resources,” Pemberton said. “It gives parents some ideas on how to talk about this with their kids. It gives them some indicators to look for.”
The stigma around suicide is the same whether you are talking about soldiers or high school students, said Jeff Dismukes, spokesman for the state Mental Health Department. Both demographics have a hard time reaching out for help, whether it be for fear that it could endanger a military career or invite judgment and ridicule from peers.
Dismukes said that has to stop.
“We really need to start talking about these issues for what they are. They are illnesses, and they are preventable illnesses,” he said. “We need to prioritize that this is an important part of our overall health.”