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The event was to notify parents of upcoming suicide prevention presentation

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AZTEC — About 20 people showed up to Aztec High School’s multi-purpose room for a presentation on preventing student suicides in the Aztec Municipal School District, and those who were there filled the room with concern, empathy and the desire to help make a difference.

“Suicide is a serious concern here,” said Aztec Municipal School District Mental Health Coordinator Glynnis Maes. She gave the presentation on Sept. 19 about the district’s suicide prevention programs, Signs of Suicide Prevention Program (SOS), and the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System.

The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System is a program implemented last year across San Juan County that gave middle and high school students an outlet to anonymously report suspected suicidal behavior through a smartphone application, a website and a phone number operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The program is managed and operated by Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization founded by a group of family members of the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

Depending on the severity of the tip, dispatchers at Sandy Hook Promise will contact local law enforcement and school officials if necessary. 

Part of the presentation's focus was to notify parents of the contents of an upcoming presentation on suicide prevention given to Aztec High School students on Sept. 24, and planned later in the month for district middle school students.

It was also meant to help parents and community members recognize behavioral signs that could lead to suicide.

“The number one cause of suicide is depression,” Maes said, “you can help protect your child and their friends by opening up a conversation about mental health.”

New Mexico has higher than average suicide rate

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, New Mexico has a higher than average suicide rate, with almost 22 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 13.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.

San Juan County has an even higher suicide rate, at 24.5 suicide related deaths per 100,000 people, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. 

In 2015 the New Mexico Department of Health reported that 10.7% of youths in the state, ages 12-17, reported having a major depressive disorder.

Aztec schools encourage students to talk about suicidal thoughts

During the presentation at Aztec High, Glynnis Maes said her position as the mental health coordinator for the Aztec school district is to encourage kids to talk to their family, school staff, and their friends about any depressive or suicidal thoughts they, or their friends, might have.

Maes reiterated that in her experience, the mental health reporting systems in the district work, citing a 2016 report from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center that determined that the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program — similar to the one implemented in San Juan County — found that when the program was implemented, high school students were 64% less likely to report having attempted suicide.   

During in-class presentations to students in middle and high school in the Aztec school district, students are given an anonymous questionnaire that will assess for signs of depression or suicide.

“I’m so glad that this program is here,” said Sherry Morris, the mother of two children in the Aztec school district.

Morris said that the subject touches her directly after making the decision to move school districts after her children were bullied at another school district, whose staff and administrators she described as unsympathetic. “Everyone that has a teen or preteen should be here. It’s our society, our kids are under a lot of pressure. Everyone should be here.”

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 or email at sribakoff@daily-times.com

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