Two Parkland Suicides Highlight the Lasting Impact of Trauma. Here’s How Parents and Teachers Can Help Teens Who Are Struggling

A pair of recent suicide deaths in Parkland, Fla., serve as a stark reminder of the lingering effects of trauma — and underscore the importance of providing long-term support to those who are living with its consequences.

Just days after 19-year-old Sydney Aiello, who survived the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, died by suicide, police confirmed that an unnamed current student at the high school had also died by “apparent suicide.” Police did not release details about the second Parkland student’s death or say whether they were enrolled at the school during last year’s rampage, but Aiello’s family has spoken openly about the survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) they say she suffered after the tragedy — highlighting the lasting consequences of mass traumas that have become all too common.

Mental health experts and school district leaders, who convened an emergency meeting in Parkland on Sunday to address suicide prevention, have urged parents to talk to their children and identify signs of crisis, using questions from the Columbia Protocol to ask about thoughts of suicide.

It’s crucial that parents and educators start conversations like these to support teenagers long after traumatic events are over, says Maureen Brogan, statewide coordinator for New Jersey’s Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth, a youth suicide prevention program out of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. That’s because such events can contribute to or exacerbate long-lasting mental health issues, Brogan says.

“Do they have a social support system? Are they surrounded by people who understand that they’re going through a tough time and are patient with that?” Brogan says. “Help-seeking behavior is really encouraging people to reach out for help, whether it’s talking to a trusted adult,” going to therapy or finding support in a faith-based or community organization.

Parents and teachers also shouldn’t shy away from speaking to young people who they’re concerned about, Brogan says — even if that means asking hard questions about suicide and mental health. “We kind of dance around it, which is not the healthiest thing. Unwittingly, we’re sending the message of, ‘I can’t hear it or I don’t want to hear it,’” Brogan says. “You’re not going to plant the idea [of suicide] if they’re not having those thoughts, but you’re now opening the door to have the conversation” if they are…Read More.

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