Leadership Jackson County team promotes inclusion, suicide prevention

Preschoolers are three times more likely to be expelled than high school students.

One in five Indiana high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months.

In 2016, 57 Hoosier youths ages 19 and younger died by suicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 and fourth-leading cause of death for ages 5 to 14.

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The statistics released in July 2018 by the Indiana Youth Institute were alarming.

Then when the Leadership Jackson County social concerns project team of Mark Gillaspy, Jordann Malone, Kristen Shaw and Bristy Zike saw the film "REJECT," they knew they needed to do something to reach youth at a young age so they don’t reach the point of considering suicide.

On May 15, through a partnership with Crothersville Community School Corp. and Purdue Extension Jackson County, the film was shown to elementary school staff members. A question-and-answer session followed, resulting in a future showing of the film being scheduled.

"All teachers found the film to be very beneficial and would like to implement further social pain prevention methods moving forward after the film," Gillaspy said.

The team proposed offering a screening of the film for parents. The staff members, however, said parent engagement was a challenge and many high school students were stepping up to help care for the young students, Shaw said.

They decided a better next step would be doing a film screening for high school students.

"The teachers were really engaged and involved, and they were truly the leaders in this decision-making process," Shaw said. "We were able to get that conversation started so the groundwork could be laid for the next steps."

Working for Centerstone as a therapist at the elementary school, Shaw said she also offered to come back at the start of the new school year in the fall to lead inclusion seminars. They would be tailored based on the age and development of the children in each grade.

"The Crothersville staff was really receptive of this idea and are prepared to fully integrate this new rule into their classrooms next year," she said. "Many teachers said they are already promoting inclusion unofficially, but they were shocked at this data (in the movie) and supportive evidence of the detrimental impacts that rejection can have on children, so they are really pushing to have that official rule next year."

When the team initially was trying to come up with a project, the murder-suicide involving a Seymour woman who shot and killed her grandson before turning the gun on herself had just occurred.

Shaw said that was a wake-up call that the community needs to do more to educate people on mental health.

"We were just very impacted by the story and kind of shocked at the description of how it happened," she said. "A few of us were personally impacted by people who had taken their life. It’s just mental illness is very prevalent in every community, even Jackson County."

Working for the Seymour Fire Department for five years and emergency medical services for 10 years, Gillaspy said he has learned mental illness oftentimes is accompanied with suicide.

The team then met with Melanie O’Neal, executive director of Mental Health America of Jackson County, and was introduced to "REJECT."

After seeing the movie, they decided they needed to shine a light on suicide awareness and prevention.

"It’s such a big topic, and trying to find where to start, we had all kinds of different ideas," Zike said. "It was us going and watching this movie that we all were there and looked at each other and said, ‘We need to get this movie out.’"

At the time, the team was trying to determine which population to focus on, Shaw said.

"This film really directed us to the early intervention of young children and how inclusion and social connectedness can really build the self-esteem at an early age," she said.

They thought showing the film at a school would be proactive to help youth and put a stop to suicidal thoughts before they start, Gillaspy said.

"Seeing them be ostracized and feeling that social pain so early in their life, it gets to you," he said.

Malone said she was astounded to read the statistic about preschool children getting expelled.

"I just can’t stop thinking about that statistic because if you teach a child that they are not good enough for school at that young age, that’s going to follow them," she said. "That’s just not going to go away."

Since Shaw already works closely with the Crothersville Elementary School students and staff and the school is in the southernmost part of the county, she said the project team wanted to get that outreach and make it as accessible to people as possible.

"Especially the early educators," she said. "They can see those kids that are having behavioral challenges and kind of in real time implement that prevention."

Principal Drew Markel allowed the teachers to watch the film during the school day, and they received continuing education credits.

After the question-and-answer session, the staff members filled out a SMART goals worksheet, which was turned in to Purdue Extension to collect data.

During their project presentation May 16, the Leadership Jackson County team announced another public showing of "REJECT" is planned for 6 to 9 p.m. June 13 at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour.

At the end, they left a question for everyone to think about: "What can be done within your organization to encourage inclusion?"

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A screening of the film “REJECT” is set for 6 to 9 p.m. June 13 at the Jackson County Learning Center, 323 Dupont Drive, Seymour.

The documentary takes an in-depth look at the science of social rejection with a solution-oriented focus on the roots of bullying and violent behavior against self or others, according to a news release from Purdue Extension.

The film aims to raise public consciousness about the serious and potentially lethal consequences of interpersonal rejection in its many forms, including peer bullying, parental neglect or abuse, race discrimination and other forms of social rejection across all ages.

After the showing, there will be a facilitated discussion about the effects of rejection and ostracism and ways to overcome and prevent violence and tragedy.

Community partners in planning the event include the Jackson County Health Department, Centerstone, Mental Health America of Jackson County and Seymour Community Schools.

To register, email [email protected] or call 812-358-6101 by June 7.