If you’re a student or a parent and you’re dealing with grief or depression, Grand County School District officials want you to know that someone is always available to help you.
School officials are working closely with mental health counselors to raise awareness about the wide range of resources that are available to local residents, as the community mourns the loss of Grand County Middle School student Lily McClish, who died last week by suicide.
Staff members at each of the district’s schools met with students last week to inform them of Lily’s death, while the district’s full-time counselors visited the middle school and high school to help meet the needs of students and staff members. Counselors will remain available for as long as they are needed, and the school district is also posting updates about local mental health resources on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/grandcountyschools.
In the coming weeks, the district will be rolling out the “SafeUT” smartphone app, which offers confidential counseling services via text messages. District officials will be meeting with students to explain how the app works, and they’ll be sending information about the service home to parents.
Kim Myers, a suicide prevention coordinator with the Utah Department of Human Services, said she wants the many students who have been affected by Lily’s death to know that they’re surrounded by loving and caring adults.
“One of the things that has been apparent in our conversations with the school and with the community providers over the last week is that these adults love you, and they care about you and they want the best for you, so reach out,” she said during a Jan. 30 forum with parents, students, teachers and others at the high school auditorium. “They’re here for you. I really hope that that’s a takeaway that you know, and that you can share with your friends and your peers.”
Suicide is a difficult subject to discuss with kids, Myers said, and it can be challenging to find the right words to tell them. But it’s important that parents speak with their children about mental health issues using age-appropriate language, and without describing personal details about an incident, or glamorizing a person who has taken their own life, she said.
It’s also imperative that parents listen to their children, she said, without minimizing the feelings they might be experiencing.
Grand County School Superintendent Scott Crane said in a letter to parents and guardians that if their children need to talk, their questions should be answered simply, honestly and repeatedly – if necessary.
Crane noted that grief manifests itself in different ways, depending on the person, and he asked parents to keep that in mind when they speak with their children.
“We grieve in different timelines; we grieve in different ways, and it affects all of us differently at many different levels,” he said.
A woman who spoke at Lily’s memorial service on Tuesday, Jan. 31, urged parents to learn to accept what their kids are going through. They can begin to understand, she said, by listening to them and supporting them.
“You need to talk to your children and you need to understand: It’s not like it was 20 or 30 years ago,” she said.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers similar advice to parents who are unsure how to broach the subject.
“Although it’s understandable that adults naturally wish to protect children from pain or bad news, shielding children from the truth can undermine trust and create a legacy of secrecy and shame that can persist for generations,” the foundation says. “You can protect children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and honest answers to their questions.”
Since parents and guardians have to be there and be prepared to help their kids, district officials said it’s important for them to take care of themselves, and they’re ready to assist them.
“We’re here to help you, too – not just your children,” Crane said. “And the community social workers and the community health officials are very involved, and they’ll help also.”
In a majority of cases, suicide is caused by depression or other brain illnesses that Myers said are often treatable. But people can take positive actions in advance to reduce the risk that someone might take his or her own life, she said, by keeping an eye on extreme changes in behavior, such as an instance when they withdraw from a group of friends.
In addition, Myers recommended that parents can monitor their child’s online searches and social media activity. While she acknowledged that they can’t control that access all of the time, she suggested that they can monitor it consistently, while limiting access to smartphones, tablets and computers after a set time each night.
Grand County Middle School counselor Marva Lewis said that students at her campus are at the age when they’re growing less and less communicative with adults, although they’re still the most important source of information about their peers.
“Our best information comes from the kids themselves,” she said.
If students have any concerns about another student, she said, they can submit anonymous comments at the middle school’s “lock box.”
“We do get information that way, and we take it seriously,” she said.
Lewis said that parents can be another important source of information about a student.
“If you hear anything concerning, you can call the school anytime,” she said.
She also encouraged residents to share any ideas they have that can open up the lines of communication between families and schools.
“Please let us know, and we can work together,” she said.
Going forward, Crane said that community effort is essential.
“It takes all of us to help children,” he said. “Schools can’t do it by ourselves.”
Community rallies to support students who may be struggling with grief, depression
It takes all of us to help children. Schools can’t do it by ourselves.
In addition to the information on the school district’s Facebook page, more resources can be found at www.dougy.org. Parents with younger students can also visit “Sesame Street Workshop’s When Families Grieve” website at www.sesameworkshop.org/grief. Anyone who needs immediate assistance can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; an online chat option at suicidepreventionlifeline.org is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Four Corners Community Behavioral Health crisis lines: 435-259-6131, ext. 0 (daytime); 435-259-8115 (after hours)
Moab Regional Hospital: 435-719-3500
SafeUT youth crisis and tip line: healthcare.utah.edu/uni/clinical-services/safe-ut/. This app can be downloaded on an iPhone or an Android.