Sen. Kissel to Enfield Students & Parents: “Nobody in this room is alone.” [Journal Inquirer]

December 15, 2011

From the Journal Inquirer:
Published: Thursday, December 15, 2011

ENFIELD — Psychologist Michael Schultz told the more than 200 people who gathered for a meeting on suicide prevention Wednesday night at Enfield High School that, more than anything else, “families make the biggest difference in our lives.”

“One hug from a mother is worth a thousand therapists,” Schultz said.

His presentation was part of a meeting that town and school officials said was the first step of the community’s response to the recent suicides of two teens associated with Fermi High School. Dillon Barnaby, 17, who had dropped out of Fermi, committed suicide on Nov. 30, just 30 days after the suicide of 17-year-old Meghan LeRoy, who was a senior at the school.

In his remarks, Schultz started out on a positive note, talking about the key components to healthy development and urging parents to work with their children to help them do the things that are good for them. Later, he discussed some of the warning signs to help identify at-risk children. He said parents should keep an eye out for rapid changes. They should pay attention to how their children look, he said, and note how they’re eating, sleeping, or exercising.

Rapid changes, such as weight gain or loss, can indicate a problem, he said, as can rapid changes in behavior, friends, and interests. Substance abuse, he said, is another indicator.

He said that changes in family structure, such as deaths and divorces, can often be triggers.

He added, however, that it is important to look at the different factors side by side, looking for patterns or “constellations” rather than focusing on single signs. For example, while rapid mood swings can be among warning signs, most young people experience them. A single warning sign doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong.

Parents should monitor what their children say on Facebook, in text messages, and other communications, Schultz said, adding that parents should not let their children tell them they’re being too intrusive. Teachers should pay attention to what their students are writing or drawing or creating, he said.

He also noted that because every individual is unique, “one size never fits all.”

In his remarks to open the evening, Mayor Scott R. Kaupin said that suicide is a problem that “reaches across the boundaries.” He asked the audience to give officials their guidance about how they want the town to address the issue

Samantha Peritz, a junior from Fermi, told the audience that “there’s help for anyone who needs it,” acknowledging that when it comes to suicide, it can be hard to ask for help.

Peritz, who said she wanted to help because she was friends with both Barnaby and LeRoy, said after Schultz’s presentation that she plans to stay involved.

“I think tonight was a good outcome, but there’s more to do,” she said. “This isn’t the end.”

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who introduced Schultz, said that “when something happens that shocks us all, we definitely pull our daughters and sons aside and ask them how things are going.”

“Nobody in this room is alone,” he said, “We have to do all we can as a loving community to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

After Schultz’s comments, the meeting adjourned to the cafeteria, where about a dozen groups of experts, including representatives from health groups and state and local agencies, were available to talk to residents.

School Superintendent John Gallacher said he was glad to see that dozens of people visited the booths set up by the different agencies. Those groups, he said, are “a phone call away, or a short drive away” and they’re available 24 hours a day, every day.

The next step, Gallacher said, will be to break into small counseling groups for students who need help. Schultz also will come back to the schools to talk to administrators about different topics such as divorce, unemployment, bullying, and other factors that relate to suicide.

He said that he planned to focus on issues that the schools can help with and on ways the entire community can respond.

“If it’s in the community, it goes into the schools,” Gallacher said. “If it’s in the schools, it goes into the community.”

Town Council member Gregory Stokes said the meeting was a “healthy start,” but noted that the “commitment has to be kept.” The response should not be an event, but a long-term process, he said.

Board of Education Vice Chairman Vincent Grady said Schultz gave a lot of good advice.

“I hope the kids will listen. I hope they know there are other avenues,” Grady said. “The town has resources, and if the town doesn’t, the state does. I hope we can prevent future tragedies.”