Students at a Pasco middle school have won a state award for a focus on suicide prevention at their school.
PASCO — Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth in Washington — third in the nation — but some students at a Pasco middle school are leading the way to help stop kids their age from taking their own lives.
The eighth-graders, Natural Helpers at Ellen Ochoa Middle School, have shown that teens can influence their friends and classmates in a positive way.
Three years ago, 19 percent of eighth-graders at the school who filled out a health survey said they seriously had considered suicide in the past year.
It’s a trend that mirrors countywide data. The 2008 survey showed many eighth-graders in the Tri-Cities struggled with depression and had made a suicide plan or attempted suicide.
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The Natural Helpers focused their attention on suicide prevention for the next two years and saw their school’s number drop to 14 percent in 2010.
“The neat part about it is with this group, they know what they’re doing and there’s a reason to it,” said Claudia Serna-Stephenson, a counselor who leads the student leadership group at Ochoa.
Stresses teens face include puberty; new social demands from family, peers, teachers and society; and emotional changes, experts say.
Last year, the students made 33 classroom presentations about suicide prevention and awareness, teaching about warning signs of depression and suicide and how to get help for a friend.
“Show you care, ask the question and call for help,” said Pedro Salazar, 13. He recited the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. “1-800-273-TALK.”
Students also encouraged their classmates to talk to a counselor at school, an adult or one of the Natural Helpers. And they made presentations to parents and staff.
In 2010, Ochoa’s rate dropped in line with the state average. For its efforts, the school received the 2010-11 Trevor Simpson Lifesaver Award and $500 to help prevention efforts this year.
The award, given to two schools each year by the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, is named in memory of Trevor Simpson, who was 16 when he died by suicide in 1992. Trevor’s parents, Scot and Leah Simpson, of Edmonds, then became advocates for suicide prevention, awareness and education.
The students were selected by their peers to be Natural Helpers in the school, meaning fellow students said they were kids who they would turn to for help. This year, there are 54 students in the group.
Ochoa is the only middle school in the Pasco School District that participates in the peer-to-peer training through the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, said Kristi Haynes, a field coordinator for the program.