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Cries For Help: Coping With Non-Fatal Suicide Attempts

By Mary Blake, WBZ NewsRadio 1030
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Mary Blake is an award-winning reporter and anchor who joined WBZ News...
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BOSTON (CBS) – The National Institute of Mental Health has compiled statistics on suicide and has found that for every teen suicide you hear of, there are another 25 failed attempts.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake is examining this rarely discussed tragedy, and its impact on one Massachusetts community.

Here’s part two of her series “Cries for Help.”

Narragansett Regional High School, which serves Templeton and Phillipston, has roughly 460 students. Its relatively small student body is coping with a recent non-fatal suicide attempt by a student. This is on the heels of several other student deaths this year.

David Whitaker has been Templeton’s Police Chief since August of 2003.

“It really affects so many people and I don’t think the person who makes the attempt has any idea of the impact they have on their school community,” said Whitaker.

In fact, dozens of parents showed up at a seminar on teen suicide prevention that was held at Narragansett Regional High in early May.

“I just think, just to get it out there, and have people and resources and knowing how to talk to your kid,” is the explanation Kathleen Grossman gave for attending the seminar that night.

Grossman has two children who are currently enrolled in middle school.

Laurel Miller, who has a 16-year-old daughter at Narragansett Regional High School, was there as well.

“Mental illness is not talked about enough, and is not dealt with enough, and that’s a big underlying piece to this,” said Miller.

Larry Berkowitz is Director of the Riverside Trauma Center in Needham and presided over the community meeting in Templeton. He agrees.

“The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 90 percent of the time, when there is a suicide, there is some underlying mental health issue and it’s often undiagnosed,” said Berkowitz. “The important thing to me about that is that many mental health challenges respond well to treatment. So if we see it and can treat it, we can prevent a lot of problems, particularly suicide.”

Warning signs can include a persistent sadness, changes in sleep patterns, a change in schools grades and friends.

Narragansett School Superintendent Rosalie Weiss says educators do what they can.

“As economic situations go south, this institution is the only major institution that is available,” she said. “But look who runs this institution: educators. We are not mental health professionals, so we deal with the academic portion but we need the support of others to deal with the mental health picture.”

Nick Young is taking over the South Hadley school system this fall. He also recognizes the importance of making available mental health services for teens.

“There is a growing percentage of students that are dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, and that’s a much more likely cause of teen suicide than bullying,” said Young.

South Hadley received international attention following the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince in January of 2010. Investigators say Prince had been bullied by fellow classmates for several months.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number is 1-800-273-TALK.

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