Edmonds program empowers teens to battle depression

KING 5's Mimi Jung reports.

It's a topic that isn't talked about a lot in schools, but the Edmonds School District is leading the way in raising awareness about teen suicide and depression.

Two years ago, school psychologist JoAnna Rockwood spearheaded an effort to bring a suicide prevention curriculum called "Signs of Suicide" to all its middle and high schools.

"Quite frankly, the kids are talking pretty openly about wanting to end their lives unfortunately," said Rockwood.

As part of the program, teenagers are empowered to speak up and tell a trusted adult when they're concerned about a friend.

Rockwood says it's important that the students know every adult in the building is trained to help.

"We are educating them that this is not a problem you can solve, but you need to care enough and we need to look out for one another to tell somebody who can," said Rockwood.

Sophomore Cameron Quinton says it's changed how she responds to posts on social media.

"A lot of times, teenagers these days joke about suicide and killing themselves, and one question someone asked is how do you know when to act? The answer that they gave us is that you always act, no matter if you think they're joking or not," said Quinton.

The program gave her mom, Lisa Quinton, the tools to start a conversation with her kids about suicide.

"You talk to your kids about drugs, alcohol, pornography, all of those things," said Quinton.  "But suicide wasn't something I thought that I needed to talk to my children about."

That conversation became all the more critical when her oldest daughter's friend died by suicide right before her senior year in 2015.

She was a popular cheerleader at Lynnwood High School, a leader who was involved in extra-curricular activities and had dreams of going to Yale Law School. 

Her death caught everyone, including her parents, by surprise.

For the past decade, there has been a steady rise in the number of students who have seriously considered suicide.

A recent study showed in Washington state one in five high school students considered taking their own life in the past 12 months. And a significant number of teens admit to feeling sad, hopeless and depressed.

Rockwood says lives have already been saved because of the "Signs of Suicide" program in Edmonds schools.

"We once found a young lady who had a plan.  She stockpiled all the pills, and she was going to do it that next week. We were able to intervene and stop her," said Rockwood.

She stresses the importance of talking about mental health and how we can't afford to stay silent.

"Talking about it helps destigmatize it, helps us understand, helps us send a message that depression is a treatable illness," said Rockwood.  "There is help out there."

Starting in January 2018, the Edmonds School District will incorporate a new curriculum for Pre-K through 3rd graders, where they will learn social and emotional skills to help them understand and deal with their emotions.

© 2017 KING-TV


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