In recognition of the Greenwich teen who committed suicide on the second day of school, the HSPC convened a panel to address the needs of local teens and parents. The panelists were Dr. Jessica Welt, director of crisis services at Child Guidance of Southern Connecticut; Ellen Dunn, principal of Darien High School; and Grant Evans, social worker for Middlesex Middle School.
During the Sept. 11 meeting, Welt emphasized the increase in anxiety in a post-9/11 world. Parents may feel a compromised sense of security and cling closer to their children, inadvertently robbing kids of self-sufficiency and the opportunity to develop coping skills. This may increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. While anxiety looks similar in adults and teens -- excessive worry, stomach aches, social nervousness -- depression looks different in a teen than in an adult. Adults suffering from depression may appear sad, hopeless and withdrawn. Teens may act out, show aggression or irritability or be defiant.
Welt also told the group that in the wake of a highly publicized suicide, vulnerable kids are at an increased risk. There are many misconceptions about suicide. One important truth is that there is always something that you can be done to help. Don't be afraid to ask the difficult questions like, "Have you had thoughts about hurting yourself?" "Have you thought about how you would do it or when?" or "Do you feel hopeful for the future?"
In recent years, bullying has attracted a great deal of public attention. However, a lot of kids who are bullied are not suicidal and a lot of kids who are suicidal are not bullied, according to the HSPC panel. They may show some of the same symptoms, but they are very different root problems, officials said.
Dunn and Evans said the schools are working closely with students and parents to identify and assist students that may be suffering from bullying, anxiety, depression or other crises.
"Changes in effort, appearance and attitude are noted by teachers and there is an `all hands on deck' reaction," Dunn said.
Both administrators emphasized the importance of the partnership and communication among all the myriad individuals in a student's life because they are essential to identifying and responding to a child in crisis.
To access local emergency medical services for suicide risk, dial 2-1-1 seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to be connected to a clinician.