Grayslake Middle School's psychologist says a suicide prevention program launched in the just-concluded academic year accomplished more than expected.
"The program has done so much more than just help us identify students who are at risk," said the psychologist, Johanna Lemoine. "We are seeing that students are becoming a lot more empathetic. They're learning to watch out for one another. They are watching each other's backs."
Lemoine and Grayslake Middle School social worker Diann Hunter last week delivered a presentation on the Elyssa's Mission Signs of Suicide program to the Grayslake Elementary District 46 board. The 2014-15 academic season was the first at District 46 for Signs of Suicide from Elyssa's Mission.
Joanne and Alan Meyers started Northbrook-based Elyssa's Mission in 2006 to honor their daughter, two years after she lost her battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. Elyssa's Mission provides resources to help prevent teenage suicide.
Lemoine said she hopes District 46 expands the program beyond Grayslake Middle School and Park School Campus in Round Lake. The free Signs of Suicide program was incorporated into health classes during five months of the school year.
As part of the initiative, teachers learned about the warning signs of suicide because they often would be the first to notice them in a student. The pupils received individual screenings and received information from videos and class discussion.
Hunter said the students are receiving the necessary suicide prevention information in easy-to-understand language. She said the children are encouraged to tell their parents if they are concerned about a peer.
"It's preventive," Hunter said, "and it's about (students) communicating with (parents), and with us as well."
Of 641 students who participated in the program, 75 were seen by social workers and a psychologist, according to the women's report to the District 46 school board. The report shows 15 pupils were seen because a concerned friend referred them, and four were hospitalized.
In addition, some of the Park and Grayslake Middle school pupils referred children from other districts.
Lemoine said research shows about four of 30 students in a typical classroom have major depressive symptoms. She said 40 percent of youths who attempt suicide do so in middle and high school.
Signs of Suicide is reported to be used in about 70 middle and high schools in the Chicago area.