LOUISVILLE, Ky.— A 16-year-old Louisville girl posted her suicide note on YouTube just before taking her own life. Thousands of people viewed that video, many of them students in Louisville. At one point on Tuesday, April 15, JCPS even shut down access to Twitter and YouTube after the video started circulating on social media.
Tuesday at Male High School, there were more than 20 grief counselors on hand to help counsel students in need.
Here at WHAS11, we rarely report suicides. It's a difficult and private situation for everyone. As a newsroom we had a serious discussion and we decided that if the community is dealing with this heartbreak, it's our responsibility to do our best to help others before it's too late.
The school district wants parents to know that it's not just counseling and a letter sent home from the principal; suicide prevention and education are top priority.
Its state mandated and JCPS has a specific plan.
When tragedy strikes, JCPS springs into action.
“The local school will be informed and then someone in the administrative staff will notify me or Michelle. Then we will get some of that information and then we will design a plan of action to support the children and the families at that school,” JCPS lead psychologist Dr. Joe Bargione said.
Bargione and JCPS lead counselor Michelle Sircy assemble a team that arrives at the school before the school day begins.
“We will usually have a drop in center which is a place where students can come down to talk to various professionals. They've all been trained to deal with crisis response,” Dr. Bargione said.
If a student is distressed, he or she will not be left alone.
“If the child is at the middle school or high school level we will have two of our responders follow that child's schedule throughout the day,” Bargione said.
Last year, four people under the age of 19 committed suicide in Louisville. It's a difficult, heartbreaking subject but it's one that the community cannot ignore.
The more that we educate on mental health, the more that stigma is going to decrease. We need to be talking about mental health consistently,” Sircy said.
If your child has been affected, JCPS wants you to know how they are helping.
“We are going to talk and try to build on some [of] those resiliency skills, how to self soothe, how to accept that death is a part of life, and these are some ways that we can cope with the loss of a loved one,” Sircy said.
Suicide prevention programs are in place district wide, but communication is key.
It's a heartbreak no parent can imagine.
“You look at your child and think they've got it all together, but anyone can cross that path,” Operation Parent’s Mary Beth Uberti said.
The end of that path is permanent; that's why prevention is key.
“It's not a comfortable conversation. Even if you think your child won't talk to you, still ask the questions because they may be waiting for you to ask. We don't want to just assume that kids won't talk to their parents,” Sircy said.
We talked to experts who know what to look for.
“They will say things; they will talk about it maybe. They will say something like “you're going to miss me when I'm gone or there's just no way out for me,” Uberti said.
Sometimes the warning signs are difficult to pinpoint.
“They've made a plan. So sometimes when they've made their plan and they've made the decision, a person who is depressed may seem lighter and happier,” Uberti said.
“Make sure that any access they have to a weapon in the home is locked up and any additional prescription medication is locked up as well,” Sircy said.
In this situation, social media played an unusual role, but one that will likely grow. The news of the suicide spread quickly.
“There is this dark side of social media. I think there is an opportunity for parents, for educators, and for other community leaders to just start a conversation and see what they can do on the local level both online and offline,” University of Louisville professor Karen Freberg said.
Social media isn't going away, but neither should a healthy parent-child relationship.
“We are not going to take all your technology away from you. We are not pulling social media as a result of this. What we are going to do is talk to each other and I need you to educate me as a parent because this is pretty new to me. In the same token I have something to offer you and I am going to raise a digitally responsible child,” Schumm said.