Suffolk starts mental wellness program for high schools

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The headlines are heartbreaking. Every day across the country, kids are dying.  Killing each other and themselves.  Suffolk educators say enough is enough.

Suffolk Public Schools is the first public school system in Hampton Roads to partner with the Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation in Norfolk, to start a conversation that will hopefully save lives.

“It’s not just high school students who you think would make those threats but it’s elementary students, so it’s frightening and we need to address it,” said Suzanne Rice, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services with Suffolk Schools.

That’s where Michelle Peterson comes in. “The number one reason people don’t reach out is because they’re afraid they might say the wrong thing,” said Peterson.

The Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation, named in memory of her daughter, teaches people how to do just that.

“It’s called “More Than Sad” because that’s what depression is…it’s more than just a sadness, it was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,” Peterson added.

The AFSP says nearly 1 in 5 teens has reported seriously considering suicide. Rice sees at least one a week in her office.

“We just feel like as a school division we are in a perfect position to start this conversation,” Rice said.

Starting this week, all Suffolk 10th graders will see the “More Than Sad” video in their health classes, then talk with trained educators and their school counselor.

Parents are invited to watch the video the night before and learn about warning signs, what to say, and how to guide teens to help.

School staff will get even more intensive training.

Peterson says she knows the program works because she hears from participants all the time who’ve noticed signs and stepped in, “and they were able to feel confident talking with them and fortunately it had a good outcome.”

Parents and community members who work with children are encouraged to attend one of the following presentations:

Wednesday, Feb. 21 — King’s Fork High School at 6 p.m.
Thursday, March 1 – Nansemond River High School at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 14 – Lakeland High School at 6:30 p.m.