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April 2011


torrey-pines                         APRIL  2011

      Written & Edited By  :  Al & Linda Vigil

By -  Linda Vigil

“ The Irony Of Grief  ... On The Other Side Of  Forgiveness ”

I have experienced much grief and pain, along with many others on my Journey of Life.
In the last four months I have once again been put on a path full of pain, but this time my path has opened my heart and my eyes to the ‘Irony of Grief.’

When we lost our Mia twenty seven years ago to suicide, we experienced the roller coaster ride of grief !  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, and not all in that order.  But with a lot of hard work, we finally reached the place of Acceptance.  But believe me, we felt the emotions of anger and blame, and it was towards Mia’s boyfriend.  He did not push her off that bridge, but we blamed him
for breaking her spirit.

Four months ago we were put on a very different path of Forgiveness.
Our beautiful 18 year old grand-daughter was driving a car with two of her dear friends.  All three girls had just graduated from high school and had their entire lives ahead of them —with promises of hopes and dreams for their future!  Our grand-daughter was wearing her seatbelt, but her dear friends were not.

In just a few seconds their lives were Forever Changed !  Taking a freeway exit, our grand-daughter lost control of the car.  The car overturned and her two friends were ejected through the rear window.  One girl was hurt and one girl was killed  —she died in my grand-daughters arms.  In those few seconds, her family, her friends, her siblings, were Forever Changed.

I cannot begin to share with you what an impact on my life this has been.  My beautiful grand-daughter who blames herself, is going through such deep grief, depression, and trying to make sense of a horrible tragic accident!  Our grand-daughter has made a video (Posted on YouTUBE) speaking about the importance of wearing a seatbelt.  Already she has made a choice of Sharing and Healing.

Once again, we are going through the Grief Stages, none of us on the same path at the same time.  But, this path has already given me the gift of forgiving my daughter Mia’s boyfriend and praying that my grand-daughter will be able to forgive herself.  It was a horrible, tragic accident!

I know only too well what the family of the girl that was killed is going through and I realize what our grand-daughters family is going through,  Al and I, pray everyday that our grand-daughter will choose life, and that she and her surviving friend will someday, not have any more nightmares, and that the vision of this tragic accident will diminish with time!  I pray in time they will feel peace and serenity and give the gift of sharing this experience with others  —in hopes of saving lives and all the pain that comes with losses.

The Irony, is that I am now on the other side of another tragedy  ...praying that in Sharing and Healing,  our grand-daughter will Forgive herself and reach Acceptance!  She has no idea how much she has helped me in my own grief process  ...I had turned forgiveness of Mia’s boyfriend over to God.  I had been very satisfied with that choice.  But I now understand what part of the grief process I had left out.

He  now  has  my  FORGIVENESS !

In Sharing & Healing,                                            
- Linda Vigil 

Blue Ribbon


Rich is the Founder of the SOS Group in New Mexico and is also
                          accredited by the American Association of Suicidology
as one of the initial founders of SOS Groups in the United States

What  SOS  Has  Meant  To  Me

      By -  Lola Blackwell   

Rich is a steady, consoling presence, accepting us, advising us without rejecting anything we say.  He affirms us as individuals, and really pays attention to us.  He acknowledges our feelings, showing that he knows what we go through.  His calm, gentle way of speaking reassures us that we can trust him with our pain.  Rich gives our SURVIVORS group wise, sensitive guidance, helping us cope with our life-changing losses.

     By  -  Andrea McEneny  

     Dear Rich,
Even before my little brother, David took his life in 2000, your Survivors of Suicide support group was in a way, a support to me because I knew from the newspaper that such a group existed. When my world stopped on that September day, I knew there was a place for me to run to...and I was not alone.  Even though that was of consolation, I believed no one there could’ve had a loss as huge, as consuming, tragic, and as unbearable as mine.  After all, David was my delight, my drug of choice and the most cherished person in my life.  But soon I met people who had suffered multiple losses, who had lost children to the darkness or had been the one to discover their wife’s lifeless body...people who had no answers for that burning question “why”?  I had in many ways, been spared.  If these people could put one foot in front of the other, so could I. 
SupportGroupsNot only was a group available, but it was strong standing, stable group that was there for me and many others before me.  The location, time and format were reliable because you were there and those years to see it through. For three years I didn’t miss a meeting unless I was out of town.  It was a lifeline for me.  I was like a crumbling, boiling pot that needed to leak out some steam by talking about what had happened and what a cavern had been left behind.

Now, ten years later I still benefit from my less frequent but regular meetings.  Retelling my story, each time with a new perspective, maybe, a new insight or understanding of things...revisiting the grief in a positive way...sticking my finger back in that socket, hearing other peoples stories and blotting away the tears allow me to heal in a deeper way, beyond marking time.

The statistics show that survivors who attend a group such as ours recover, more fully from a suicide loss than do survivors who haven’t had such a group available.

It’s been a real community service you’ve provided Rich. Thanks so much from all of us.

       By   -     Marion Waterston  

It's hard to feel alone. Never have I felt more alone than when I lost my husband to suicide in 1973. No one in my circle of family and friends had experienced loss in this manner and I found myself feeling susceptible to what they might be thinking of me. Suicide bears that stigma. Did they feel I had driven him to this?
Fortunately, I had marvelous family support. My brother comforted me by saying "Marion, if he couldn't get along with you, he couldn't get along with anyone." I repeated those words to myself many times when I felt I needed bolstering. My sister-in-law, a physician who had experience working with patients having mental problems, insisted on sleeping with me that first tormented night of separation. My mother came and stayed with me for many weeks, Butterflyselflessly caring for my three and four year old children. Close friends whom I called when I discovered the body offered their wisdom and support and were a source of strength. Still, with all this help, a feeling of isolation and emptiness persisted. When my husband's graduate school called and asked the cause of his death, I did not level with them and muttered something about "a breathing problem." There were no support groups for suicide survivors that I could locate in New York at that time, although I did find one group in Los Angeles. I became active in a group of widows and widowers in the county in which I lived but found I was the only one who had lost someone to suicide. I felt somewhat of an enigma, since suicide left me feeling both widowed and divorced at the same time.
Sixteen years later I was still living in New York, when my nineteen year old son also took his life and there I was, back on the treadmill again. Fortunately, there was a group for suicide survivors in existence at that time, run by a trained leader. I joined, was fortunate to meet a wonderful friend, and we have remained close for twenty years. She, too, had lost a son to suicide. For that and other reasons, we bonded.
I moved to Albuquerque, NM in 1995, five years after my son's death, and was able to find the group called  "Survivors of Suicide" or "SOS."  It was run by a man named Rich Schwoebel and I called him. At the other end of the phone, I discovered a warm, compassionate, understanding human being who has been my friend for fifteen years. I learned that Rich had been instrumental in starting SOS and had been its leader since its inception in the seventies.
I joined SOS and felt I had come home. Here I was able to continue sharing the legacy of suicide - the pain, bewilderment, guilt, and anger - with others who had been through the same experience I had. And I learned that it is possible to move beyond these feelings. Being a "survivor" permits you to make a choice as to how well you choose to survive. It does not mean forgetting your loved one. Rather, it incorporates your loss into re-evaluating your own purpose in living, without guilt associated in being a survivor. It also helps to develop a sense of deeper values regarding what's really important in life and what's insignificant. It's interesting that many who have joined SOS often choose, at some later date, to tell their stories and lead the group discussion that follows. They want to give back and help newcomers take the steps they need to take for their own recovery. There is never any requirement to speak, only to listen, and boxes of tissue are generously placed throughout the room. Members of SOS are not afraid of tears.
Two members who have gone on to share their stories and also lead the evening groups of SOS, are Linda and Al Vigil. Additionally, they publish four times a year, a remarkable newsletter called "Sharing and Healing" —which is intended for survivors of suicide. I admire the title because I have found from my experience that sharing is healing.
These are just a few of my thoughts as I think about the impact SOS has made in my life. I know it has helped many others besides me and will be there to help others in the future. Thank you, Rich Schwoebel, for making this possible.

     By - Jennifer Lind 

Dear Rich,   I don’t know you well, but I am certain that you have touched and helped many people of your many years of service to Survivors of Suicide. You met me at the door on my first time to the support group, and it was obvious that you cared and knew my pain and how hard it was for me to simply walk down that long, long hall.
I nearly did not make it, I wanted to turn around. Your kindness was a great comfort to me, and I’m sure to the many others who are, both fortunate and unfortunate at the same time, to find their way to you.
Thank you for your work to SOS.    God’s blessing to you !

torrey-pinesBy    -  Al & Linda Vigil  

When our middle daughter, Mia, took her life in 1984, we were given a blue business card that read,  “Survivors of Suicide - Support Group for Those Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide.”  The card also had a name and a telephone number to call for meeting information.

After several weeks, we called that telephone number and spoke to Virgil. Like us he too, had lost a daughter to suicide. We quickly understood that he understood our pain and our grief. We weren’t talking to a counselor, or a therapist, or a mental health professional, or to someone who had learned about the grief process in Psychology 101. The following Monday, we, with our other two daughters, went to our first SOS Meeting.

SOS has become the pathway that has moved us into sharing and healing with our survival stories, our pain, our growth, and our tears, with hundreds of others just like us -surviving the loss of someone we loved by suicide. That healing and grief work in San Diego took us through 15 years after Mia’s death.

Six years ago (in 2005) we retired and moved to Albuquerque, our original home. We wanted to be physically closer to family of origin —mother, sister, nephews, nieces, cousins, etc. Then in 2008, Patty, Linda’s sister, took her life with a drug overdose. We understood the power of sharing and healing to help us with the loss of another suicide in our family.

We checked around and with special thanks to Richard Schwoebel, two SOS Meetings a month, at four o’clock in the afternoon, were going on right here in Albuquerque. Rich, had initiated and started the meetings after the death of his wife to suicide.

There was never a moment of hesitation.  To SOS—Albuquerque we trekked. Every meeting we attend, we go as survivors of suicide loss. Then after several month of attendance there, we decided to add to the valuable viability of survivor support. With the approval and blessings of Rich, Marion, and the SOS-ABQ Board of Directors, we were able to add two more SOS meetings a month, at 7 o’clock in the evening.

Any seed for grief healing always needs nurturing from someone to sprout. In Albuquerque, that seed was planted, fed, cared for, maintained, and groomed by  Richard Schwoebel.

Thank you Rich!  Your work has moved un-numbered hundreds of suicide survivors, and once again, Linda and Al, through the road to healing by making available sharing and healing in New Mexico, through your Survivors of Suicide.

                                                                    By   -   James  and  Linda Baca

ReachingHands Rich Schwoebel   :   The Man With A Mission      
Thank you. For a man so dedicated to helping others in his quiet, confident manner these two words don’t seem enough. I first met Rich in late 1999 at an SOS meeting. My head was in a fog and my thoughts were disjointed as so many of us are when faced with the tragedy of the loss of a loved one to suicide. His quiet demeanor instilled a sort of comfort in Linda and me. He welcomed our infant grandson who we cared for while his mother was at work.  His understanding and friendly acceptance of us and our situation were not to be found anywhere else.

Rich had been welcoming people like us since the 1970’s and he personally kept SOS together without outside help or financial support other than the use of a meeting room provided by the church. It would be interesting to know how many people were enriched by his calm support. The meetings are a revolving door of attendees with new survivors present at almost every meeting. He personally facilitated every meeting and I could always count on seeing him on the second and last Monday of every month.

He started the meetings with a few simple rules. Don’t judge, don’t offer advice and don’t repeat things that are said in confidence. Speak if you wish, but it is not required. A few unspoken rules were cry if you feel like it, be angry if you wish, say what is on you mind without fear of judgment or reprisal. This was a place to be at ease with distress and acute emotions. This was a safe place.

Rich, you set an example for us that is impossible to follow. We think about you with great respect and admiration for your commitment to a cause that few will undertake. We will never forget you and what you have done for us. We came through a dark time in our lives and have emerged as better people. We are indebted to you for giving of yourself so that others can heal. Thank you.

     By  :  Carol Argue    

Rich  Schwoebel  and  Survivors  of  Suicide

I remember November 10, 2004, as though it was yesterday.  When I came home from work, I discovered the body of my husband, John, in the garage, the blue and white nylon rope around his neck, wrists, and legs.  Shockwaves went through my being as I summoned the strength to call 911 for help; I was forever changed from that moment forward.  

Almost immediately, I began to attend grief counseling sessions and soon learned about the existence of Survivors of Suicide.  I called for information about SOS and could only listen to Rich Schwoebel’s voice as I was unable to speak through my sobbing.  I agreed to attend the nextgrief person meeting of SOS; Rich said he would meet me outside at the entrance of the church.  

Rich greeted me by name as I approached him which triggered more tears and sobbing.  His hug and comforting words will never be forgotten.  I was met by Marion Waterston as I walked into the meeting room;  she sat by me and comforted me during the meeting.  While I was too upset to talk about my loss, I listened to stories of the profound pain and agony of losing children, spouses, friends, and relatives to suicide.  Although there were a few tears, I noticed laughter and humor as people shared stories about their struggles, hope, change of lifestyle, sadness, anger, and much more.  What I also heard were stories about moving on, accepting the loss, coping with unspeakable circumstances, and making lifestyle changes in order to survive.

Attending SOS meetings, quite frankly, saved my life.  I was able to go on after my husband’s suicide and embrace my new life as a survivor.  SOS and my association with Rich gave me the strength to continue on with my life and to help others who have come after me.  

We each have our own story to tell as to why we became members of SOS, but the feelings and understanding common to us all bind us forever and help make our lives so worthwhile.

     By  :  Dayna Anton    

I'm so grateful that SOS exists, after my fiancé killed himself I was left feeling empty, confused, hurt, sad, angry, broken, mad and lost.  I sought counseling and was put on antidepressants, and I tried to return to as normal of a life as possible, but was still left with so many questions that my therapist was not able to help me with.  I wasn't comfortable and had little faith in the expertise of someone who had not experienced losing someone of such significance to them —to suicide.  My fiancé was so much a part of my life, my existence, myBroken Hedart future, my past, my best friend.  It's very different than having someone die of old age, illness, or of a tragic accident —he chose to kill himself.  I felt that I had noone to talk to that could truly understand what I was feeling, or that could help me get through this.
It was at a counseling session at OMI where I asked if they knew of some other people that had lost someone to suicide that I could contact.  I was given a flyer for SOS, and shortly after I began attending meetings regularly. They have given me more help, insight and support, than anything else I've encountered. Without those meetings I don't feel that I would be here today. Having people to talk to that truly understand what you're going through has been the best thing for me.  It's a place of non judgement, openness, sharing and healing.  My life will never be the same, but I now know that it will go on, and I can and will survive.
Thank you so much Rich, for starting SOS.  It is my rock, my safe place, and has given me the strength to go on and to move forward.   Best wishes!  

     By  :  Joe Thompson

In 2005 I found my wife dead in our garage. We had been together for almost twenty years. I was devastated. Heartbroken. After a few months of walking about in a daze I tried to get some help dealing with my grief.
A friend suggested a grief class hosted by an area hospital. I will never forget that first meeting. All of the attendees in the room took turns introducing themselves and the person they had lost. Cancer, a car crash and murder were the causes of death described. When my turn came I explained that my wife had taken her own life. I will never forget the look of contempt I received from people. Their loved ones had been taken and mine had left. I felt shame. I didn’t belong there.
Puzzle heartSometime later I went to my first SOS meeting. The leader of the group, Rich Schwoebel took a special interest in me for he too had lost his wife to suicide. Finally I had found someone who knew how I felt. In the coming months Rich and I had many conversations. I was so lost and I had no skill articulating my feelings. And then one day I found my voice. Thanks to Rich I was able to explore and embrace the flood of emotions. By sharing those feelings with Rich and others I was able to fully experience my grief. Despite my fear that I would never be healthy or happy again I started to make progress. After about a year in the group I discovered that the program really worked. I also realized that a big part of my healing was the product of my helping others. Rich taught me these things  —he taught me that I needed to focus on serving others.
But for Rich Schwoebel and the SOS Group he founded I would not be here today. I still have days of incomprehensible sadness  —days that I can't believe my wife is really gone. But even on the worst of days I am able to connect with the gratitude I feel toward Rich and SOS. I am grateful that I have found my voice and the tools to deal with life's greatest challenges. I am grateful for the realization that we have an obligation to help one another and it is through the unity of common experience that true healing is possible.

      By  :  Eilene Vaughn-Pickrell

Dear Rich,
As a recent survivor of suicide, I would like to thank Rich and everyone who is part of this great healing and helping group.  When I lost my son, Sam, last April, I was a lost soul searching for answers and ways to deal with the enormous pain I was experiencing.  I visited with a grief counselor at the Medical Examiner’s office who had a flyer in her office for your group meetings.  Then one day, I was talking to my neighbor, Laura, who I met when the tragedy occurred, who strongly recommended your group to me.  She is the Executive Director for the Coalition to Prevent Suicide and she said SOS was a tremendous help to her when she lost a friend to suicide a few years ago.
Hearing about SOS more than once seemed like a sign to me that I should at least check it out.  It was really hard making the first call.  I was very emotional, but thankfully, Rich answered the phone.  In a very calm and soothing voice, he told me about the meetings and suggested I attend one.  He said there was no obligation and nothing was expected of me.  It was his sincere, no-strings-attached, but interested in helping invitation that brought me to the first meeting.alone on boat
After attending meetings for the past few months, I am so grateful now for the healing I have gotten from your meetings.  Everyone I have met truly cares about each other and empathizes with each other’s pain.  While I did see a grief counselor for a while, it is the wonderful people involved in SOS and going to the meetings that are helping me to get through the most painful and difficult experience of my life.  I know I’ll be going to these meetings for a long time because they help me so much.  It is my hope that eventually, I’ll be going to these meetings more to help support others through their grief than to help myself. In the meantime, thank you for being there for me and all the other survivors you have helped.

                                             Thank  You!  ♥  Rich  Schwoebel

Lorna Thackeray   :  Gazette :  February  2011

All the reasons that put young people at risk of suicide in the country at large are amplified on Indian reservations. Indian children are more likely to be abused, see their mothers being abused and live in a household where someone is controlled by drugs or alcohol. They have the highest rates of emotional and physical neglect and are more likely to be exposed to trauma.

“The unfortunate and often forgotten reality is that there is an epidemic of violence and harm directed toward this very vulnerable population,” Dolores Subia BigFoot, director of the Indian Country Trauma Center at the University of Oklahoma, testified  before the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs during hearings on the Indian Youth Suicide Prevention Act of 2009.

indian headdress“American Indian children and youth experience an increase risk of multiple victimizations,” she said. “Their capacity to function and to regroup before the next emotional or physical assault diminished with each missed opportunity to intervene. These youth often make the decision to take their own lives because they feel a lack of safety in their environment. Our youth are in desperate need of safe homes, safe families and safe communities.”

Safety can be an elusive commodity on isolated, remote reservations where poverty and its offspring — substance abuse and violence —are self-perpetuating.  In states with reservations, an estimated 75 percent of suicides, 80 percent of homicides and 65 percent of motor vehicle deaths among Native Americans involve alcohol. Violent death accounts for 75 percent of all mortality in the second decade of life, BigFoot said.

Poverty is generational and community deep. High unemployment rates are the norm. Good-paying jobs —or the prospects of any employment at all —are often off the reservation. Leaving the reservation means entering an alien culture that may not always be welcoming, and where there are no grandmothers, aunts and cousins to watch your back. About 50 percent of Montana's native population lives in urban areas. Suicide rates among urban Indian youth are higher even than those on the reservations.

“We don't know what goes on behind closed doors at home,” said Shawn Silbernagel, who is youth coordinator for Planting Seeds of Hope, a suicide prevention program sponsored by the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Association.  “The average Indian child has a lot of adult things, negative adult things, they have to deal with at a very young age,” he said.

Funerals and grief are common to children in tribal cultures where large extended families are essentially the same as the immediate family in the general population, he said. Teaching children how to deal with the trauma in their lives is the theme of many programs throughout Indian Country aimed at reducing suicides among Native Americans. The Tribal Leaders Association has one year left on its second three-year grant to bring a comprehensive suicide prevention plan to Montana's seven reservations and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

“We have eight partnering tribes,” said Stephanie Iron Shooter, manager of the program. “Each tribe has a youth council or committee as a way for kids to address the tribal councils and community.”

Through the “Honoring Your Life Project,” the tribes fashion a grassroots program based on tribal creation stories and philosophies of life and death, she said. Tribal elders play a key role and many of the projects seek to restore the bonds between elders and tribal youth. Weakening of those bonds and loss of culture and spirituality are among the reasons young people cannot find their way, she said.

Others describe historical and cultural trauma that remains ingrained in the Native American psyche. Colonization and racism and the abrupt end to traditional life still reverberate in new generations, said Clayton Small, a Cheyenne, who works in a nonprofit suicide prevention program.

Generational trauma weighs heaviest on the male population, he said. They commit suicide at a far higher rate than female Native Americans. “In Indian Country the role of our men has been significantly altered,” Small said. “Then throw in poverty and violence and it descends into drug and alcohol abuse.” He said one out of three Native American males end up incarcerated at some time during their lives, in part because their cases are brought in the relatively unforgiving federal system. With a criminal record, employment is nearly Indian potteryimpossible to find and they suffer the indignity of not being able to support their families, Small said. “We have to teach kids that they don't have to continue this cycle,” he said. “We have to teach them to cope with the stress and trauma they see every day.”

When Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau last spring initiated her “Schools of Promise” program to transform the state's lowest-performing schools — all of them on Indian Reservations in the eastern half of the state — she looked at what it would take to change failing schools on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Peck Reservations.  “We learned very quickly that it went far beyond academics,” she said. “There is a lot of trauma in these communities”

OPI in partnership with the tribes, BIA, IHS and the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Association formed a plan to provide “wrap-around” services for schools that include health, mental health and social services needed to keep children alive and in school. Juneau said a $600,000 grant to implement the program will provide training, coordination and support to “knit services together in a comprehensive, systematic and cohesive system” over the next three years.

The state superintendent said the first step will be community-based meetings to get a perspective on the local problem. Much of the project will be aimed at teaching students how to help each other.

Changing the climate at schools is another piece of the agenda, said Sara Casey, administrator of OPI's Special Education Division.  “There are a lot of people in our schools working on climate issues in a very big way,” Casey said. Among those issues are bullying, safety, self-discipline and other behavioral problems. “We're doing everything we can,” said Karl Royston,  Montana's suicide prevention coordinator.

A “Talk to Youth” training program is available at no cost to schools, he said. It teaches how to question, persuade and refer someone who may be at risk. Another free program, “Signs of Suicide” has been sent to 144 schools statewide. It teaches how to talk to at-risk students.

Last year, Rosston did 43 training programs for a total of 1,500 people, including 440 teachers. Many of the tribes have worked to provide safe places for at-risk children when home is not a good option. When a child who has attempted or is contemplating suicide is referred for additional help, BIA tries to find a foster family specially trained to deal with at-risk children, she said. But foster homes for these children are hard to find.

“If we have to remove a child, we have difficulty placing them,” she said. Some are referred to New Day Inc. in Billings, a residential therapeutic program.

Resources have always been a stumbling block and are likely to continue to be. But efforts to coordinate anti-suicide programs, end duplication and streamline services, combined with new emphasis on peer-to-peer support, may knock a few obstacles away.


A  paper handed to each freshman at Oak Lawn Community High School  (Los Angeles) was filled with blunt and uncomfortable questions. Had they lost interest in everything? Did they feel they weren't as smart or good-looking as most other people? Were they thinking about killing themselves?
A squad of counselors stood by to interview those who, based on their answers, might have been struggling with depression or contemplating suicide. By the end of the day, more than 50 teenagers had come to see them.
High SchoolNot long ago, some educators say, teen suicide was enveloped in silence, a subject too perilous to discuss. But candor has begun to gain strength in area high schools, where a new state law is promoting prevention training for teachers and staff. Some are going further, screening their students for signs of trouble or bringing in consultants for specialized instruction.
While it's not clear that these initiatives affect suicide rates, some experts say they fight the negative feelings that can lead the vulnerable to desperate acts. "Most of those who suffer from serious suicidal (thoughts) do not seek help from mental health professionals, and one of the major reasons is stigma," said Philip Rodgers, who evaluates programs for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. "By decreasing that stigma, we feel that those who are at risk might be more likely to seek help."
For all the community trauma a teen suicide can produce, it is an exceedingly uncommon act. In Illinois, state figures show that about 1 in 17,000 teens of high school age takes his or her own life, a rate that has remained constant over the last decade.
The rarity of completed suicides makes it difficult to figure out how to stop them, Rodgers said. But about 1 in 16 high school students in 2009 reported that they had made an attempt, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some approaches have been shown to reduce the risk factors leading to that step.
Winnetka-based Erika's Lighthouse, formed in memory of a girl who took her life at 14, focuses on teen depression, a mental illness closely tied to suicide. The group has offered a program at 54 middle schools from Antioch to Chicago, that aims to help students spot and respond to signs of the illness.
"The number of kids who are going to take their lives is so tiny compared to the number of kids who are struggling with depression," said Executive Director Peggy Kubert. "This helps them realize this (should not be) part of normal teenage development. It gives them a vocabulary to talk about depression, and to know where to go for help or to get help for others."    
Some schools touched by suicide in recent years have responded with a barrage of programs. Barrington High School, which over the last three years endured the self-inflicted deaths of five students and two staffers, started a community group focused on mental health, updated its health curriculum with the help of Johns Hopkins University and engaged medical researchers to evaluate its efforts.
A sabbatical, not a student's suicide, prompted Oak Lawn Community High School's expansive program. Social worker Carol Gustafson used the break to research the delivery of mental health services, hoping to have help at the ready when a crisis emerged.HighSchoolKids
Three years ago, the school took it a step further, screening all freshmen for signs of depression or suicidal thinking. In late January, 270 students filled out a short questionnaire in their health classes, and a fifth of them were referred to counselors for follow-up interviews. About half of those teens were offered free in-school therapy or referrals to outside counselors, Gustafson said. She added that the screenings almost always result in at least one student being hospitalized for a psychiatric emergency.
Parents are kept informed throughout, she said, and although they can excuse their children from the screening, only a handful do.  "I think it's an absolutely wonderful idea," said parent Maria Vanderwarren, who has one child at Oak Lawn and another about to enter. "You're showing the child that you care. If they can write (their problems) down, they know that there's someone there that can help them."
A day after the evaluation, a Chicago-based advocacy group, gave the teens a presentation to help them recognize the hallmarks of a coming suicide attempt, from social withdrawal to a burst of inexplicable happiness. The students listened attentively, but later some said the program had been unsettling, particularly the screening form.  One boy said its questions were intrusive and "not really anyone's business."
Others saw it differently.  "If you don't ask," said a 15-year-old student,  "you're not going to get an answer."


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