It’s OK not to be OK
National Suicide Prevention Month is recognized during September—along with National Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 4-10—to raise awareness and support for those who are struggling. Because the safety and well-being of students and staff is Dallas ISD’s top priority, departments and schools across the district are working together to encourage everyone to watch for warning signs and intervene as needed.
“People who are having suicidal thoughts need to know that help is readily available,” said Juany Valdespino-Gaytan, the executive director of Social and Emotional Learning. “We are working to reach the people who are silently suffering through proactive social and emotional learning strategies to access the support and tools they need at any time.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, warning signs of suicide include:
- Feeling empty, hopeless or trapped
- Talking about wanting to die or being a burden
- Experiencing intense guilt or shame
- Making a plan or researching ways to die
- Eating or sleeping more or less
- Feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated or angry
- Withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items or making a will
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Taking dangerous risks such as driving too fast
- Using drugs or alcohol more often
Anyone who is experiencing a crisis can get immediate support by contacting the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in English or Spanish at 988. Additionally, people can access the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., by calling 1-800-950-6264, texting “HelpLine” to 62640 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dallas ISD staff can take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks. This confidential, secure platform has free specialist counselors on call 24/7, as well as personalized wellbeing tips, podcasts, videos, exercises, assessments and more.
Contact LifeWorks by calling (972) 925-4000 or visiting www.dallasisd.org/benefits and clicking on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. LifeWorks also has an app that offers specialized self-help resources developed by experts. Once downloaded, the app can be accessed through the EAD login credentials.
Several other proactive measures are in place across the district to help students and families get the support they need. SEL is teaching students self-management and self-awareness daily at every campus and is offering tools like the Rhithm app, which alerts counselors to students who are showing signs of feeling down or anxious. Counseling Services has incorporated suicide prevention education into its guidance lessons and will be offering suicide prevention trainings to all staff.
“The goal of these guidance lessons is to nurture and build resilience in students by instilling the message that they are loved, worthy and not alone,” said JoAnn Jackson Powell, director of Counseling Services. “This quote—by someone unknown—sums up the main idea that counselors want staff and students to remember: ‘It isn’t weak to ask for help. It’s like using a flashlight when you’re lost in the dark.’”
Mental Health Services is rolling out a partnership with an organization called The Defensive Line to host monthly trainings to help staff identify signs of suicide and know what steps to take, and Parent Services will be training families to recognize when their children may need additional support.
Ultimately, Tracey Brown, executive director of Mental Health Services, wants to remind everyone that it’s OK to not be OK, and that there is no need to suffer in silence. She wants to encourage all—students or staff—to reach out and get the help they need today.
“We have the most strength in our weakest moments,” Brown added. “Many times we struggle and strive to be strong, but our greatest strength is found in our greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Just know that you’re not in the struggle by yourself.”