By Diana Nelson
The tragic loss of young students to suicide that left a school community devastated was the catalyst that drove one woman to take action.
Eduarda Schroder created a door hanger with a simple message—”Please reach out…you are not alone.” Then, she enlisted about 30 volunteers to deliver them door to door in a West Chandler neighborhood on a recent Sunday morning.
September is Suicide Awareness Month, and according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017. Suicide was the leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 in the U.S. during that same year.
And though the numbers are staggering, Schroder’s door-hanger project is nonetheless impactful, serving as one more way to remind residents—particularly teenagers—that help is available if the stressors of life become too much to handle alone.
It also helps survivors, who still may feel the sting of the grief caused by suicide. That’s how Schroder became involved in suicide prevention to begin with.
A West Chandler resident whose grown daughters are former students at Aprende Middle School and then Corona, Schroder has long pursued volunteer opportunities which support students and education. It also happened that her daughters had a favorite teacher named Lorie Warnock.
Warnock was the mother of Mitch Warnock, who also attended Aprende and then Corona del Sol. He was a popular student in high school, as well as an accomplished track and field athlete, when he died by suicide.
As a result, Lorie Warnock, Schroder and two other local parents, Karianna Blanchard and Suzanne Whitaker, joined forces to form Parents for Suicide Prevention, with the goal of providing education and compassion to the community. The group’s story is further described on their website at Mitchlegacy.com.
In addition to Mitch, Aprende lost several other students to suicide including Marcus Wheeler and Preston Kinney.
The memories of these students’ deaths led to early adoption of several supportive programs at Aprende, said Renee Kory, the school’s principal.
“It was very meaningful to the Aprende community and the teachers who attended the recent event because the suicides really impacted them personally.
“Our own ongoing suicide prevention efforts and the increase in our social emotional health interventions were spurred on by the passing of the former Aprende students,” said Kory.
Shortly after they first occurred, Kory asked the district for the OK to pilot a new social-emotional model at Aprende, along with adding Brook Norris, a full-time counselor, to the school’s staff.
Kory believes that both steps have really made a difference to students. Now, the district has added counselors to all schools.
“I am grateful that the Kyrene district has committed to the mental health well-being of its students through the addition of social workers and counselors to all of our schools,” said Norris.
“I am in my third year at Aprende and in that time we have reduced the number of suicide risk assessments we have had to do significantly. I feel it is in part to the fact that I am here for students to talk with before they become hopeless,” Norris said. “I can assess students early and work through strategies for overcoming challenges.”
Another ongoing program at Aprende is the Speak Up, Stand Up group, which is an Arizona- based initiative created to encourage kids to involve themselves in developing solutions to reduce the number of suicides amongst their peers.
I applaud this effort to stem the rising rate of teen suicide. We might say the rising rate of teen suicide by gun. More than half are by a firearm. Attempts at self-harm without a firearm often do not work; if the momentarily depressed teen has access to gun they usually do. States with higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of teen suicides. That means we can all do something about teen suicide; we can enact reasonable gun laws and we can educate people who have guns in their homes to at least be responsible enough to keep them locked up with the ammunition separately stored. Our Arizona state legislators have recently rejected the requirement that foster parents follow these common sense rules. Where guns are, kids will die.