SR takes proactive stand
Suicide in youth is preventable

Wanda English Burnett

LEFT: Dr. John Mehrle, superintendent of South Ripley schools, introduced Joni Irwin, who spoke on the epidemic of suicide among youth today. The professional speaker spoke to the teachers (pictured below) for nearly two hours as she told her own personal story, and then gave staggering statistics on suicide among young people.

Youth suicide is the silent epidemic that is claiming 100 young people each week in our nation.

Statistics such as this were presented by Joni Irwin, a representative of The Jason Foundation Inc. (TJFI), at an in-service for South Ripley teachers on Monday, January 3.

Irwin’s personal experiences were riveting as she told about her son’s attempted suicide and then the ordeal that nearly claim her own life.

Those who are college age who have the highest occurrence of suicide are freshmen in the second semester.

Irwin’s son fit that category, but she never thought about it. A mother who raised four children with solid values said she could talk to her children about anything, and did. Except suicide. “It never crossed my mind to talk to my kids about suicide,” she noted.

A call came in that Irwin said she would never forget. In that call, she would learn her son was hospitalized for attempting suicide. She traveled to the hospital thinking “it’s not my son.”

A few minutes later she would enter the hospital room to see a set of boots - her son’s. Then she saw him, hooked up to everything, not knowing if he would live or die. The look in Irwin’s son’s eyes made her vow she would do everything in her power to keep others from being in the same situation. “We were fortunate, our son didn’t die,” she said.

Almost three years to the month of her son’s attempted suicide, Irwin found herself in the same situation. “I didn’t want to live,” she said. Holding a cell phone in one hand and a gun in the other, Irwin knows what it’s like to be at the brink of suicide.
Irwin described her life as the “dream” life with a good family - stable environment in a rural setting. But, after 25 years of marriage, her husband left. She was shattered.

Thankfully, Irwin used the cell phone and was saved. She has a sincere passion for helping others - especially youth - before they cross the line and take their own life.
The Jason Foundation Inc. (TJFI) was established after Jason Flatt, a 16-year-old from Hendersonville, TN, took his life.

The JFI is dedicated to the prevention of the “silent epidemic” of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/youth workers and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth.

At the invitation of South Ripley Superintendent Dr. John Mehrle, Irwin spoke to the staff at South Ripley giving an overview of the prevention program. While the program promotes the triangle of prevention being through students, parents and teachers, Irwin said the sad truth is the parents are the last to know if a young person is contemplating suicide.

A high percentage of teens said they would talk with a trusted teacher or coach. Knowing many times the teachers and coaches are on the first line of defense in this war on our youth, Irwin praised the proactive stand South Ripley had taken by having her speak. “Most schools are reactive,” Irwin noted, as she spoke of an incident at a Greensburg school last year where a student committed suicide.
Irwin has a bill before the Senate this year that would require mandatory training for educators concerning suicide prevention.

The Jason Foundation Inc., is now recognized in all 50 states and 10 countries. Irwin said her employer, Valle Vista Mental Health, Greenwood, pays for her to travel the state and give presentations on suicide prevention.

Knowing that suicide is now the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24, Irvin believes the time is now to get serious about this serious problem that is preventable.

She urged the educators to learn the signs and know what to do next.

The Jason Foundation Inc. offers a parent resource program and parent seminars, in addition to the staff development training seminars for schools. Irwin told The Versailles Republican she is available to speak at organizations. She can be contacted by calling 317-501-1737 or Irwin’s information is priceless- literally. There is no charge for the presentations she gives.

“Education is the key to prevention,” Irwin passionately stated. She said four out of five youth give clear warning signs before committing suicide. Some signs of concern include: depression, abrupt changes in behavior, mood swings, changes in school performance, giving away treasured belongings and saying good-bye.

While the staggering count of 100 youth suicides weekly is overwhelming - Irwin brings it home, saying, “one is too many.”

When some people say teens just want attention by saying they are going to commit suicide, Irwin says adults should look at it as a cry for help. Irwin told how one teen who attempted suicide said, “I didn’t want to die - I just wanted the pain to stop.”
She cited bullying as a huge factor in youth suicides. “The bullying that is going on is unbelievable,” she noted. She said with Facebook and cell phones, the youth of today are facing a “whole different set of rules.”

Irwin urged those present at the assembly to understand that “suicide knows no boundaries - kids (who commit suicide) don’t look different.”

Dr. Mehrle hopes to partner with The Jason Foundation Inc. and use some of its preventive oriented curriculum that might help students in appropriate high school classes. The Jason Foundation offers a free school-based curriculum unit designed for grades 7-12.

“The issue of teen bullying and related teen suicide is a national problem. We are trying to implement programs such as our student mentoring program that will serve to reduce problems that may exist,” noted Dr. Mehrle. He continued, “My sincere desire is for each and every student who enters our school doors to feel they are safe and always have an adult or mentor to whom they can turn.” He said the Monday session is part of an ongoing effort. Earlier in the school year all three building principals in-serviced faculty members on the school’s bullying and sexual harassment policies. Current policies are being reviewed. “Most student convocations dealing with bullying are also being explored,” Dr. Mehrle shared.
Dr. Mehrle told The Versailles Republican, “We are blessed to have a community based school corporation where we know our students. We have dedicated teachers, principals, and support staff who truly care about our students.”

The superintendent said, “Unfortunately, however, even we at South Ripley are not immune to the problem of bullying and we need to make every pro-active effort possible to create a safe environment for all of our students.”