Teens take suicide prevention program to peers


by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 HealthLink

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Posted on February 26, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 2 at 4:52 PM

"In 1992 a young boy by the name of Trevor Simpson died by suicide," said Lily Tesfaye as she stood in front of fellow students at Franklin High School.

Tesfaye is a founding member of an after-school health club called the Franklin High School Q-TIHPS. It stands for Quaker Teens Improving Health Problems. The club members have begun reaching out to fellow students during scheduled presentations, hoping to prevent teen suicide

"This is real. It's just not a funny thing to laugh around or joke around or just act like it's not even there. It is there. I've had friends that have committed suicide," said club member Sophomore Jonathan Owen.

The student presenters talked about causes of suicide, and gave tips for talking to someone in trouble, and for getting help. Their curriculum was developed by a local non profit organization called the Youth Suicide Prevention Program. The organization's mission is to reduce the incidence of youth suicide in Washington State. They accomplish that goal through training, presentations, and awareness building efforts among teens and adults. 

School nurse Robin Fleming organized the fledgling after-school health club at Franklin High School.

"Suicide is a very serious issue. Two kids complete suicide in Washington State every week, and many many more consider an attempt," she said.

Club members asked their audience to think about suicide warning signs. Those include a teen talking about suicide, and preoccupation with death, also giving away prized possessions and increased alcohol or drug use. Classmates are often the first to see those signs.

Dr. Robert Hilt, Director of Psychiatric Emergency Services at Seattle Children's described the problem of too little mental health treatment for children who need it.

"The state has one child psychiatrist for every 820 children with serious emotional disturbance, which is not a good ratio for providing services," he said.

Robin Fleming added that school nurses are stretched too thin as well.

"I have about 1,600 to 1,700 kids on my caseload," she said.

She explained that research shows a peer education approach is very effective in reaching teens.

"They're very engaged when their peers are talking to them about topics. And they retain the information. And they use the information. And they will go back to those kids and talk to those kids if they have questions," she said.

The Q-TIHP health club members say they'll keep spreading the word.

Lily Tesfaye explained saying, "I want to help people. I don't want another generation to die. Like, maybe those people who die might be the person who could change the world."

The teens hope to expand their audience beyond Franklin High School, to community centers and clinics in the near future.