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Chautauqua Lake Central School prioritizes suicide prevention

December 17, 2015
Westfield Republican

MAYVILLE - Suicide is a tough topic for anyone. Thanks to the efforts of school districts and administrations that are willing to address tough topics such as suicide, schools remain a safe haven where students are cared for and safe. A local school district, Chautauqua Lake Central School , has been working on efforts to prevent suicide and to have a plan in place in case an unexpected tragedy occurs.

CLCS started the process of training staff in suicide prevention and creating a crisis plan in May 2014 with a one-day workshop, "Creating Suicide Safety in Schools," through Suicide Prevention Center of NY. This workshop for school-based interdisciplinary teams empowers them to establish realistic short-term plans for effective suicide prevention and response planning. During this training, faculty and administration assessed the current crisis plan and made a schedule of necessary trainings. Participants spent time planning and problem solving for specific actions needed for suicide-safer schools.

The Lifelines training, a whole school program made up of three unique components - prevention, intervention, and postvention - is ongoing at CLCS. The complete Lifelines Trilogy is based on over 20 years of suicide-in-youth research that indicates an informed community can help to prevent vulnerable teens from ending their lives. CLCS staff completed the suicide prevention training in September 2014, and the crisis team was trained in Lifelines Postvention. In the late fall of 2014 the team completed Lifelines Intervention training. This fall, the Lifelines Prevention training was completed so the student curriculum could be implemented in the district.

"We are extremely thankful that our district was able to participate in the Lifelines curriculum," said Benjamin Spitzer, Chautauqua Lake Superintendent. "The process resulted in a comprehensive response plan addressing the critical issue of suicide prevention, intervention, and response. In addition, the training has helped to empower members of the school community to continue to focus on a safe and supportive educational environment."

These efforts were possible due to a partnership formed between Chautauqua Lake and Gowanda schools. Beth Westerheide, guidance director at Gowanda High School, is a trainer from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, part of the NYS Office of Mental Health.

"Our crisis team and protocol at Gowanda Schools are identified as best practices and these have been established for four years. Being closer to CLCS, it made sense as we all share many of the same community resources," said Westerheide. "As a trainer for Office Mental Health, I was able to take CLCS staff through the entire model from Creating through Prevention. These community partnerships help ensure the highest quality intervention for all of our children."

CLCS has also been supported in their efforts by a local group dedicated to suicide prevention, the Community Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The Alliance is a group of dedicated professionals and community members who have come together to recognize the call to action for suicide prevention work in Chautauqua County. For the past four years, the Alliance has had the privilege of working with local school districts to help staff recognize warning signs of suicide and what should be done if a student or coworker is thinking of taking their own life.

"It is so important that we talk about these concerns and don't brush them aside and hope they go away," said Victoria Patti, co-coordinator of the Alliance. "We need to create a community culture in which we feel comfortable in talking about mental health openly and honestly in order to receive the support and resources necessary to work towards wellness. We hope that this partnership with Chautauqua Lake Central School District serves as a way to reach those we might not have had the opportunity to reach in the past, including other school districts that believe in the cause and would like to contribute to a suicide safer community. Not only is the Alliance applauding the work that CLCS has done, but we hope to use their plan as a model to help other school districts develop crisis plans and offer training to staff and students."

To contact the Alliance for additional information, call Patti at 716-753-4519.



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