Department of Education staffer Donna Brailsford told Community Education Council District 24 on Tuesday that suicide isn’t just a part of her professional life as a crisis manager. Like millions of others, it’s also a tragedy that has struck her family.
While she didn’t go into much detail, she said she still asks herself if there was something she could have done to prevent it.
In many cases, there are subtle warning signs depressed and suicidal people display. And teaching parents and students how to spot them in their children and friends, respectively, was the subject of Tuesday’s CEC 24 meeting.
“Depression in young people doesn’t look like they’re sad all the time. With young people, it comes and goes,” Brailsford said. “It’s so important to let that child know that you care. That’s probably the most important thing to get them to talk to you.”
According to Brailsford, suicide is the second-leading cause of death of young people, adding that females attempt the act more than males and Hispanic women commit suicide more than any other group.
Warning signs in kids include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, worsening grades in school and an increase in discussion of morbid topics.
And while bullying in school often contributes to a youngster contemplating suicide, Brailsford said parents need to know that it’s other underlying factors that cause them to end their lives.
“Bullying does not cause suicide. It’s dangerous for us to say that because it normalizes suicide,” she said. “Children that are depressed or disconnected are more likely to be a target of bullying because they are easier to get upset.”
But when it comes to school torment, Brailsford added, parents aren’t the first line of defense. Kids are. That’s why the DOE crisis managers are making rounds through the school system to educate youngsters on the warning signs of depression and suicide.
“In many cases, children speak to other children before they speak to an adult,” she said. “It’s important for our young people to be informed about how to help a friend.”
One way Queens Metropolitan High School in Forest Hills is combating such issues is through its anti-cyberbullying initiative led by teacher Katherine Stalford.
“Each student in every grade, they had to sign a social media contract that said that I won’t cyberbully,” Stalford said.
The educator has also partnered with the New York Jets and advocacy group Stomp Out Bullying to award students who had either overcome depression issues or helped a friend who was being bullied.
Winning pupils are given free Jets tickets, shirts and other gifts.
“It’s been a really great program,” Stalford said. “I’m very happy with it.”