In the 1980s, the first books about suicide prevention in schools were full of warnings about heavy metal lyrics and the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.
The thought was at-risk students could be identified by their appearance and interests, suicide intervention expert and Loyola University Associate Professor Jonathan Singer said this week.
Not so, Singer said, as he shared risk factors, warning signs, protective factors and treatment options with parents in Naperville Unit District 203 during well-attended community engagement sessions Thursday and Friday.
Students at risk for ending their lives may look no different from peers who would never consider such an act. Those in distress can hide it from even the most attentive educators and parents, said Singer, co-author of a 2015 book called "Suicide in Schools."
That's why he recommends all schools conduct screenings to determine which students are at risk and how they best can be helped.
Superintendent Dan Bridges said Singer is reviewing the district's policies and procedures related to student mental health and will provide recommendations for new practices based on research.
Implementing a screening is among the recommendations the district will consider in the wake of a year when two Naperville North High School students died by suicide, said Christine Igoe, assistant superintendent for student services.
"One suicide is too many," Igoe said.
Officials estimate 600 people attended the sessions to hear advice from Singer as the community increases discussions about the dangers of intense academic pressure, untreated mental illness and addiction.
"Knowledge is power," Igoe said. "It's good to see so many people here."
In the past, Bridges said, parent education events related to mental health were poorly attended. But the lectures by Singer, the 37th in a community engagement series called Focus 203 that began in 2014, changed all that.
"Tonight may be the most important conversation for our community," Bridges said.
Singer told parents all suicides are preventable. Discussing the topic does not lead more students to do it. And it's not a selfish act or a result of weakness. Only myths lead people to believe otherwise.
Prevention, meanwhile, can come in many forms.
"It's not magic," Singer said. "It's being there to listen, even when your child doesn't want to talk."
He advised parents to make sure their teens actually sleep as another preventive factor; to get their children involved in activities that decrease social isolation; and to "want the best for your child, not for your child to be the best."
Other tips include teaming with teachers to address student problems, demonstrating behaviors that promote a healthy mental state, getting a pet to provide comfort and staying calm.
For students, Singer said prevention can stem from speaking up.
"There are a lot of reasons why you wouldn't talk to an adult about things going on in your life," he said. "Suicide shouldn't be one of them."