By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – Jean Fedak, mother of two Algonquin graduates, began teaching at the high school in 1984. Over the past 28 years, she has taught physical education and health, as well as two electives (wellness mentor and peer leadership). Fedak, who has just begun her fourth year as chair of the health department, is committed to helping teens live healthy lives.
In her position as health teacher, Fedak has always included a unit on teen suicide prevention. As part of that unit, she has shared information about the Samaritans, a non-religious charity, which provides confidential emotional support to anyone who is lonely, depressed or suicidal. Because the most effective form of suicide prevention is education, Kelley Cunningham, the Education and Outreach Manager for the Samaritans, came to Algonquin to speak to the health classes. She defined suicide, explained the warning signs and symptoms, and gave the students the tools to help themselves and others get the appropriate help from trusted adults.
“As a long-standing reputable organization,” said Fedak, “we felt that students could benefit from the Samaritans’ perspective and experience with handling numerous situations involving people who have been suicidal or depressed. Algonquin and the Samaritans have a shared common goal of preventing teen suicide.”
According to the Metro West Health Survey in Central Massachusetts, 1 in 5 teens in the MetroWest area felt that they possessed signs of depression and 12 percent felt they had experienced suicidal thoughts. Nationally, suicide is listed as the third leading cause of death in the 15 to 24 year old age group.
“With this type of data,” Fedak said, “it behooves us, as a responsible educational institution, to arm our students with information to recognize the signs of suicide and the tools to prevent suicide.”
Teens tend to confide in other teens, said Fedak, who added that she encourages her students to break confidentiality and get help for anyone they suspect may be depressed and suicidal. This, she says, is the sign of a responsible, good friend.
“Just like other topics such as accidents, drunk driving and drug abuse, we have made it a practice to bring in trained professionals to communicate the same message that we are trying to promote,” she said. “It is valuable for teens to be exposed to health information from multiple credible sources.”
Since the 1980s, Algonquin has provided students in need with access to hotline phone numbers. In June, it became the fourth school to partner with the Samaritans on the “IM Hear” teen outreach program, an expansion of the existing services offered by the Samaritans. This new program focuses on the more relevant means of communication used by teens today – social media – providing them with a means to access help that they are comfortable using. With the increase of teens’ use of social media, the IM Hear program connects to the way that teens communicate. Help is just a text away.
A great deal of preplanning took place before Algonquin agreed to join this new initiative, to insure that the program respected the core values of Algonquin and was aligned with the health curriculum, and with the National and State Framework standards. Informational and planning meetings occurred with the Samaritans of Boston Education and Outreach Manager, the Framingham Samaritans Director and Algonquin health teachers and administration.
The IM Hear program is a confidential teen-to-teen online messaging service. Teens ages 15 to 18, who have undergone 30 hours of training (while being monitored by trained adults) and performed a minimum of 50 hours of phone shift work, can become a “chat befriender.” The basic premise of the Samaritans phone/texting services is that listening is the greatest gift one can offer another person and that the mere presence of someone willing to listen has kept many people alive. Students can access the Samaritans IM Hear “teen-to-teen online instant messaging program” by texting imhear.org year round Monday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. According to Fedak, Algonquin has had several students volunteer over the years as “Samariteens” and have handled many incoming phone calls.
The Samaritans have provided Algonquin health teachers with posters and business cards with hotline texting information that students can access.
“I know that this type of education works, because students over the years have recognized signs of depressed and/or suicide in friends and have approached trusted adults in our community [parents, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, nurses, doctors, clergymen, etc.] for assistance. Algonquin personnel abides by all laws and regulations as a mandated reporter. I know this type of education has saved the lives of our teenagers.”
Parents can learn more about all of the services provided by the Samaritans by going to the local Boston/MetroWest Samaritans website www.samaritanshope.org.