A countywide forum on suicide prevention organized by the Kingston City School District and Saugerties Central School District will be held at the Senate Garage in Kingston on Thursday, Nov. 10.
Organizers said the forum is designed to give families and the community at large an understanding of the resources and strategies available to help young people cope with feelings that sometimes lead to suicide. A key component is removing the stigma of talking about suicide.
“It’s a difficult topic, but an important topic to talk about,” said KCSD Superintendent Paul Padalino. “There are people [kids] can speak to. It’s a feeling of no one understanding, no one has been through this before, and there are people who understand and have been through it before. There is hope.”
LeShawn Parker is the KCSD’s director of safety and prevention and has coordinated the forum, which will bring together community partners from law enforcement, the Mental Health Association in Ulster, Ulster County Departments of Health and Mental Health, Family of Woodstock, as well as members of the faith community, including pastors from the Living Word Chapel in Hurley. Also involved are psychologists and social workers from both the Kingston and the Saugerties districts, as well as people who have been impacted by suicide.
“My background is in working with incarcerated youth and youth in crisis, so I think [Padalino] thought I would be able to give a different perspective,” Parker said, adding that while some believe an open dialogue about suicide believe it gives some kids the idea, he agrees with experts who feel openness is an important piece of a very complex puzzle.
“Anything you suppress and keep in the dark ends up eating away at you from the inside out,” Parker said. “Anything that you need to have healed, you need to expose it to the light. You’re not going to heal from keeping things a secret, whether it’s thoughts of suicide or depression.”
SCSD Superintendent Seth Turner said he realized how universally uncomfortable the subject can be during a presentation of the Suicide Prevention Education & Awareness Kit (SPEAK) app by County Executive Mike Hein three years ago.
“When the county came to present to my faculty about this, I realized there were a lot of people in the audience who have difficult times having these conversations,” Turner said. “Make no mistake: This is a very difficult subject to talk about.”
Padalino and Turner took the reins on the suicide prevention forum during a meeting of local superintendents last year.
“We’d started as a group having discussions about issues that are impacting our youths, recognizing that if it happens in Kingston or New Paltz, or Onteora, these are our neighbors,” Turner said. “They’re in our backyard.”
A workshop on opioid and heroin addiction organized by officials in the Ellenville and Wallkill school districts was the first out of the gate, and Turner said the suicide prevention forum was originally expected to follow up in June, but they realized there was more work to be done.
“We had to recalibrate to make sure we were going to do something that was meaningful and worthwhile,” Turner said.
Further forums led by other school districts may include bullying and transgender issues.
Padalino said researching the suicide prevention forum has helped foster communication between local school districts and the organizations and individuals working within local communities on helping people in crisis.
“We really wanted to grab all the resources in our community and the county and be able to talk to people about things that are not school specific,” Padalino said. “It’s been a good experience reaching out to people who are the experts who live in our backyards, and who for the most part we didn’t talk to much before.”
Padalino added that the forum will explore a variety of different topics relating to suicide prevention.
“‘Help and Hope’ is kind of our tagline,” he said. “It’s about the resources, but it’s also about finding the hope. Why do kids feel like this is the thing to do? We’re looking at this from several different levels. The statistical level, giving out the hard, cold facts. The resource level, here’s what we have in our county: I’ve got to say, I didn’t know the resources we had, and people really are working on this. And we’re also going to have a piece with some personal stories, people who have been impacted personally by this. And then we’re going to close with a message of hope, talking to the young people and parents that we can stop this. There are reasons for kids to not lose hope. We’ve had issues in our county with teen suicide. I think addressing it with parents and students, talking about the resources that are available to them.”
Padalino said that the forum, scheduled on Thursday, Nov. 10 from 6-8 p.m. at the Senate Garage, 4 North Front St. in Uptown Kingston, and open to the public, isn’t the end.
“This isn’t a one-shot deal,” Padalino said. “We’re going to move up the Thruway and do something in Saugerties in the spring to kind of preach this message for awhile.”