TILTON – Two local school districts have organized the screening of a film about suicide – a topic they say is always relevant, but especially so since September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
The Franklin and Winnisquam school districts are sponsoring the screening of “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” at Smitty’s Cinema in Tilton on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m.
The screening will include a candid discussion about suicide when the film is over. The event carries the warning that it is not recommended for children under 13 years old.
Jess Descoteaux, Winnisquam’s coordinator of School Wellness, along with Franklin’s School Wellness coordinator, Barbara Slayton, said they wanted to bring the film to the area after seeing the response when Belmont High School screened it last year. Although this screening is in Tilton, Slayton said it is open to everyone who would like to attend.
Descoteaux and Slayton, who collaborate with McKenzie Harrington-Bacote of Laconia’s Office of School Wellness through a System of Care Grant, said they discussed how compelling the film’s message of hope was.
“There’s a need,” Descoteaux said. “It’s a subject that touches everyone, from students to parents and business owners. It doesn’t matter whether you’re financially stable or not, it’s an issue.”
Slayton said the message is timely, with Franklin having seen “at least three pretty serious attempts” in recent years.
When there is such a crisis, the school has a team and an intervention counselor to assist the family.
“We have mental health professionals at the school,” Slayton said, although one position was lost to a budget cut. The district received a matching grant from New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to support one of the counselors. “They provide extra support if a child is hospitalized, and help with any treatment plans.”
Kelly Gaspa of the Partnership for Public Health-New Hampshire and Deb Baird from the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New Hampshire will lead the discussion after the film’s screening.
Support for the screening and discussion comes from Smitty’s Cinema, the Partnership for Public Health, and NAMI New Hampshire. Light refreshments will be served at the theater, located at 630 West Main St., Tilton.
Joining those organizations in providing material for aresource tables will be HealthFirst.
National Suicide Prevention Month is designed to bring together mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members in an effort to raise awareness of suicide and its prevention.
Gov. John Sununu proclaimed Sept. 8-14 to be Suicide Prevention Week in New Hampshire.
“Suicide: The Ripple Effect” has won awards in the Nice, Louisiana, Woodstock, and International Black film festivals, along with a media award from Mental Health America. Its story of survival and recovery aims to raise awareness of the problem, described as a health crisis, and will help people “find the support they need to stay alive, heal and #BeHereTomorrow” according to the website http://suicidetherippleeffect.com.
Specifically, the film focuses on Kevin Hines who, at age 19, attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. In the film, he shares his story of despair and survival, and his mission to help others.
Slayton said they try to get out ahead of mental health issues through staff training and through relationships with mental health providers in the area. “Those relationships are essential if we’re going to tackle this problem,” she said.
By having mental health professionals in the schools, they can help students who are unable to get to the agencies providing counseling. “They can meet them at the school,” Slayton said.
NAMI New Hampshire’s Connect Suicide Prevention Program trains student leaders to provide peer support to others, teaching them to recognize signs of distress and offer support, or pass any concerns on to school officials.
Both Franklin and Winnisquam school officials praised the Connect Program for teaching students to help with not only suicidal thoughts but other mental health and family problems.
Descoteaux said the System of Care Grant helps to support the mental and behavioral health of children and families in the area.
“Although this is the first event about suicide awareness, we have brought former Chief Justice [John] Broderick to our high school, and a community event to help bring attention to the importance of mental health awareness,” she said. “We plan to continue to bring events like these to our community.”
Stacy Buckley, superintendent at School Administrative Unit 4, said the Newfound Area School District is not planning any special programs around Suicide Prevention Month, but has an ongoing commitment to address bullying and its consequences, which can include suicide.
“We’ve brought in speakers in the past,” Buckley said, “and tie it in with bullying prevention, because they all tie together.”
Last year, Newfound brought in John Hannigan as a guest speaker, talking about his son, who committed suicide after being bullied in school. He spoke at both the middle and high school, as well as holding an evening event for parents.
“It was probably one of our best presentations,” Buckley said, noting that “the kids sat and listened” and gave their full attention to Hannigan.
Specific discussion of suicide takes place at the middle and high school, Buckley said, but it’s part of the district’s focus at all grade levels on being kind to one another, and “discussing what are the skill sets we need” to accomplish that.
A new law taking effect in July 2020 requires school districts to train their staff in suicide prevention, and Newfound is already planning for what it will do in the coming year.
“At the end of the day,” Buckley said, “we’re looking to explore the options for next year on what we want to do and what’s best for the district.”