Ohio district has had five student suicides this school year
PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Community leaders are asking parents to talk to their children about suicide following the deaths of five current and one former Perry Local students this school year.
The district on Friday announced the most recent student death and categorized all six deaths as suicides. School officials were joined at a news conference by representatives from law enforcement, township government, churches and the mental health sector to discuss what they know about the deaths and to express their commitment to preventing future suicides.
“We will not give up,” Superintendent Scott Beatty said.
The teen deaths include a 2017 Perry High graduate, one middle school student and four high school students. The district enrolls about 4,700 students, with approximately 1,400 at the high school.
The Perry Township Police Department is handling five investigations, and the Jackson Township Police Department is handling the other. Perry Township Police Chief Michael Pomesky said his department’s investigations have revealed multiple factors — and not a single issue — appear to have influenced the students. Bullying has not been identified as a potential cause, he said, and the deaths are not believed to be linked.
The string of deaths, however, is being looked at as a “suicide contagion,” which is when exposure to suicide increases suicidal behavior. Carole Vesely, with the Crisis Intervention and Recovery Center, said being a teenager or going to the same school could be enough of a connection.
She told parents to look for such warning signs as major behavior changes, withdrawal, risky behavior, use of drugs or alcohol and changes in eating or sleeping habits. The two major triggers for suicide are the breakup of a relationship or a family conflict, she said, and she urged parents to take those issues seriously and call for help if they’re concerned.
In the fall, Perry Local Schools began a national Signs of Suicide Prevention Program that is designed to decrease instances of suicide by teaching students about depression, encouraging them to seek help for themselves or friends, changing perceptions about mental illness, working with parents and school staff and developing community partnerships.
The district has brought in additional outside clinical counselors at the schools and employs crisis teams, though previously the teams didn’t need to be used.
“And now we can’t quit using them,” district counselor Margaret DeLillo-Storey said Friday.
Counseling was available for students, staff and community members at the Perry Police Department on Friday; school was not in session.
Speakers at Friday’s news conference emphasized that parents need to talk with their children about suicide.
“Give them time to speak with you, and listen to them,” Pomesky said.
PHS News, via its Twitter account, also called for a community response.
“We ask parents, residents, local organizations and everyone in the community to wrap around these young people to provide support for those who are grieving and support for those that are dealing with difficult situations,” the tweet read.
Alison Matas is a reporter for The Canton (Ohio) Repository.