OUR TURN: Talk About It a good strategy for student suicide prevention

The Burnet Consolidated Independent School District is implementing a technology-based system that could help save students’ lives in the future.

Its success boils down to one question: Are the youth of BCISD ready to break a barrier of silence and do the right thing?

The Talk About It system outlined by Superintendent Keith McBurnett during a recent community forum will allow students to submit anonymous postings through email, texting, calling or other means about fellow pupils who might be contemplating suicide.

Ostensibly, the system also exists to give students an avenue to vent, to offer critiques, to give suggestions and to report bullying. More than likely the system will be used for these purposes much more than as a red flag about a child’s intent to harm himself.

But if it can save one student’s life by providing an early warning to counselors and educators, it will be worth it.

The new system also allows students to connect with faculty through the world of social media, which is today’s preferred mode of communication among the younger set.

When a report comes in that a child is emotionally troubled, a trained professional will examine the posting for credibility and to ascertain the level of any potential incident — or potential threat.

McBurnett said the impetus for the Talk About It system came from a mother whose child committed suicide. While the child’s peers knew there were problems, they never spoke out, never told an adult. They hunkered down behind a wall of silence, unwilling to be a so-called tattle-tale.

The grieving mother wondered what would have happened if someone had just spoken up?

The superintendent doesn’t want to see any other parents or loved ones in such a dark place.

But the implementation of the system, which he hopes to have in place by the end of the month, must be accompanied by a vigorous education campaign. Students first must be taught it’s OK to provide credible statements — especially since the process is anonymous — when they fear for a peer’s safety. There need to be holes punched through this wall of silence, and the wall eventually needs to break down so the light of truth shines through.

Yet, at the same time, the system should not be used as a launching pad for faceless slander about other students, unfounded complaints about a teacher, online name-calling, goofy comments or other such nonsense.

The Leander Independent School District started the program this year, while several Dallas-area school districts have had theirs for some time.

Posters will be created and letters will be given to students for parents. Students will be taught about ways to report potential suicide threats and related social ills, such as bullying — which often precipitates depression and thoughts of self-harm.

It all starts with breaking the code of silence among schoolchildren. This anonymous system helps reduce or eliminates the stigma of being a tattle-tale.

According to officials, Talk About It provides a chance for students to solve issues connected to bullying, violence, depression and more at the start, rather than when it is too late.

Students need to understand this is serious business, not something to be taken lightly. The aim is to provide help when help is needed.


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