Carmel Clay Schools on Its Mission to Prevent Suicide

February 2020

Last June, Carmel Clay Schools (CCS) hired its first mental health coordinator, Stephanie Whiteside, in an effort to reduce the numbers of student addiction/overdose, suicide, depression and other mental health-related occurrences throughout the student body. In less than a year, Whiteside has made significant strides in further developing communications between administrators, teachers, providers, students and parents. With the full support of the CCS board of trustees and administrators, Whiteside has expanded a national, evidence-based program—Question Persuade Respond (QPR) for Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Program, that has been available to CCS administrators and teachers but is now available to parents.

Parent QPR Training Program Overview

Question Persuade Respond (QPR) for Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Program is a unique training opportunity designed to assist participants with recognizing a crisis and warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide. The QPR method was developed specifically to detect and respond to anyone emitting suicide warning signs and has been applied as a universal intervention for anyone experiencing distress. CCS has utilized the QPR programming to train teachers, social workers and counselors as a method for suicide prevention.

Carmel Clay Schools on Its Mission

This free, 90-minute training course is available to parents or legal guardians of CCS students. Each course is limited to 25 participants. In this course, Whiteside—who is a QPR-certified trainer—discusses signs of mental illness and suicide risk, including verbal, behavioral and situational cues and warning signs that an individual is contemplating suicide. Whiteside also discusses—in detail—the policies and systems in place at CCS.

Each participant will learn and practice the Question Persuade Respond method and will be provided with information on the resources and support available in the community. Each participant will receive a QPR Gatekeeper Certificate upon successful completion of the training.

Whiteside has held two QPR training sessions so far this year and will be hosting more as demand and requests for more sessions continue to rise.

Speaking a Common Language Is Key to Suicide Prevention

Whiteside shared her thoughts on why QPR works and the importance of having parents’ participation in the training courses.

Carmel Clay Schools on Its Mission

“I wanted to make sure that the parents are aware of and understand the interventions that we provide to our students and their families,” Whiteside said. “Let’s go back to a common language. Since coming to CCS, I’ve been very fortunate to have met with and spoken with several parents at PTA meetings or over coffee; the parent QPR [training] is another way to outreach and educate parents on what we’re doing [at CCS], but it’s also a way to get their feedback on what they need and how we can better support them and their child.”

Whiteside emphasized that she has received a stupendous amount of support from not only the administrators and teachers but from CCS parents.

“The parents who have attended the two previous QPR training courses have expressed how grateful they were for the information,” Whiteside shared. “Many expressed that they didn’t know how to support their child or friends of their child who’ve exhibited some behaviors or had made statements while in their home that have caused concern. The parents have been receptive to the feedback and advice that was given in these sessions. As a parent, I understand that our children are coming up against things that we did not due to things like social media that add even more [complex] layers to adolescence.”

Signs to Look For and When Do You Act?

While registering for QPR training is certainly one way to learn what signs or behaviors to look for and what to do if you child or a child you know is exhibiting “off” behavior, Whiteside shared some primary signs to look for and what to do once you’ve been alerted to them.

Carmel Clay Schools on Its Mission

“First off, I always say to trust your gut [instinct],” Whiteside said. “If something doesn’t feel right or have given you cause for concern, go with it. One primary indicator has always been significant changes in behavior. If you see a child has gone from ‘happy-go-lucky’ to making negative statements about themselves or life with a very bleak outlook, that is something to be concerned about. Especially if it’s become more of the child’s default [behavior] than just every once in a while having a ‘down’ day.”

Whiteside continued, “When a child starts making comments about being ‘worthless’ and not belonging or that they ‘won’t be here anyway,’ or comments that aren’t future-forward thinking statements, these are—obviously—concerning statements that you want to follow up on. If there have been sudden changes in the child’s life—life events such as death of a family member, suicide in the family, loss of job, failing an exam, bad break-ups, etc.—these types of life events may not appear to be a big deal to the child, and he/she may be playing it off like it’s not, but these losses can negatively influence their thinking.”

The CCS website lists a plethora of vetted programs and organizations for students and families in need of them, but Whiteside strongly encouraged parents to reach out to their child’s school counselor and/or social worker and to communicate your concerns so that they can better assist your child’s specific needs and move forward—together—to create a positive outcome for your son or daughter.

“Reaching out to your child’s counselor or social worker is very beneficial,” Whiteside emphasized. “We keep an internal resource list with more specific and private providers—all of whom have been vetted and whom we’ve met with and developed partnerships with to better serve our students and their families.”

If your child is in immediate danger or you know of someone who might be in immediate danger, please call 911.