'More Than Sad': Suicide Prevention Comes to T.C. Williams
Student's suicide last year sparked drive to bring suicide awareness and prevention program to high school.
One in four children in high school today is clinically depressed. Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman knows this firsthand—his own daughter, Rachel, attempted suicide in high school.
“From a family point of view, we struggled a long time as a family, with guilt and questions, and was it our fault?” Sherman told the T.C. Williams High School PTSA Monday night. “… We as a country do not deal with this in a candid and forthright way, like we should.”
Now, Sherman said, Rachel is doing “terrific,” is a principal at a preschool program and has two children of her own. His comments came as part of a presentation on a new program to de-stigmatize depression and suicide prevention, “More than Sad.”
Seniors at T.C. Williams are watching the “More than Sad” film this week, and students at the Minnie Howard campus will watch it in April. Staff at both campuses are viewing the film, which details suicide risks and where teens can seek help if they are considering suicide, the third-leading cause of death for teens in the United States.
Greg Forbes, director of school counseling at T.C. Williams, said Monday that staff members wanted to increase suicide awareness following the suicide of a T.C. Williams student, Ian Daughtrey, last Memorial Day. The “More than Sad” film, shown through a partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, covers risk factors for suicide, signs of depression and warning signs for educators.
The film also discusses the risk of suicide as it relates to alcohol or drug abuse, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder or conduct disorder. Gay and lesbian teens may also be at increased risk of suicide, staff said.
Marge McConnnell with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who lost her daughter to suicide in 2006, said T.C. Williams teachers who saw the film Monday were grateful to have the resources to better help students.
“I wish that I could have seen that video seven years ago,” she said. “A lot of people don't want to say the word 'suicide' or think the word 'suicide' in reference to their children, but that doesn't help. … I wish I'd known that.”
Mariah Frank, a T.C. Williams senior who dated Daughtrey, told parents that teens sometimes worry about hurting a friendship if they tell an adult that a friend is having suicidal thoughts.
“You’re not hurting your friendship," she said. "You’re not damaging anyone. You’re being a better friend. And there are concerns sometimes that maybe they’ll get angry at you. But I can honestly say that I would rather have a friend be angry with me than to no longer have my friend.”
School counselors are introducing themselves to T.C. Williams students this week to let them know they can talk to them when they, or a friend, need help. Parents who are concerned about their children's mental health can also call school counselors to request they speak with their children.
Sherman and his daughter Rachel also appear in a short video being shown to students. In this film, Rachel shares advice for students: You are not alone, she says. The sadness you feel inside is a deep hurt—not just a case of the blues—but therapy can help.
In the video, Rachel tells how the best treatment she had was cognitive therapy, on top of using the resources of family and friends. “Remember that you are not alone,” she says. Please reach out to people and let them know how you’re feeling.”