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School district advises parents to watch for suicide warning signs

In an email sent Wednesday to parents of Grand Forks public school children, Superintendent Larry Nybladh stressed the importance of being aware of signs that may suggest a child or young person is dealing with a mental health challenge.

In the email, Nybladh provided parents with information on how to talk to their kids, if they have concerns, and how to connect them with counselors and other professionals who can provide the help that's needed.

Nybladh said that the Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why," which is popular among young audiences, could be used to start a conversation with youth about mental health issues, including suicide.

In the fictional series, based on a novel, one of the characters commits suicide, leaving tapes which detail her reasons. It is a cautionary tale that portrays "a serious treatment failure" and is not meant to cast suicide in a heroic light, according to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) organization.

SAVE created series-related "talking points" which Nybladh attached to the email for parents' use in talking to their kids.

Although people sometimes identify with TV or movie characters, they should understand that "there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in 13RW and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them," SAVE pointed out.

"Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is OK," the SAVE document continued. "It will not make someone more suicidal or put the idea of suicide in their mind. If you are concerned about someone, ask them about it."

"While not everyone will know what to say or have a helpful reaction, there are people who do, so keep trying to find someone who will help you," the SAVE talking points stated. "If someone tells you they are suicidal, take them seriously and get help."

Nybladh also provided a description of warning signs and symptoms parents should watch for. They include social withdrawal; a drop in functioning in school, work or social activities; changes in mood, sleep pattern and appetite; nervousness; apathy; feeling disconnected; nervousness; unusual behavior; problems in thinking, and increased sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch.

"Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers," Nybladh told the Herald recently. "Teen suicide is a major issue in our society."

He said he has confidence in the district's school counselors and their ability to help students who may be struggling with mental health issues.

"I know we have well-trained counselors," he said. "(And) a well-developed plan in place for suicide prevention and suicide response."

In the recent email, Nybladh recommended that parents consult with their child's school counselor, primary doctor or other mental health professional about questions or concerns they may have.

He also suggested adding hotline numbers to their phones' contact list in order to share them as needed. They are: (800) 273-TALK (or -8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline; 211 to access confidential listening and support in addition to information and referral to local resources, and text "START" to 741741, a crisis text line.