Mountain View Voice

News - August 27, 2010

Spotting the warning signs

High school staff schooled on suicide prevention

by Nick Veronin

High school staff went back to school for suicide-prevention training, following a "surprisingly high" number of attempted suicides by Mountain View and Los Altos high school students last year, and the much-publicized suicide cluster at Gunn High School in Palo Alto in 2009.

The Aug. 13 training session at Foothill College drew 35 employees of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District. It focused on a suicide prevention protocol known as "question-persuade-refer," or QPR.

Students who contemplate killing themselves often feel pressured, depressed, overwhelmed or hopeless and very often suffer from a form of mental illness such as bipolar disorder or psychosis, said Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services at Mountain View-Los Altos. She was at the training where Susan Flatmo, a contract psychologist with the district, outlined some of the indicators that a person may be considering suicide.

The training focused on spotting the warning signs and engaging students in the QPR protocol, which involves asking students if they are depressed and are considering suicide, attempting to persuade them against ending their lives and referring students to a qualified mental health official.

Between May 2009 and January 2010, five people affiliated with Gunn High School committed suicide. Three were Gunn students at the time, one was an incoming freshman and one had recently graduated in the class of 2008. Sarraf had no concrete figures for the number of attempted suicides in her district last year, but said many had been reported and that it was disconcerting.

"We would like to think it was an aberration, but we don't want to take a chance on that," Sarraf said. "We want the adults in our schools to be aware, so that we can assist students before they seriously act on a suicide plan. This is all aimed at saving lives."

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