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Life-saving lessons

How one Key Club confronted suicide
Story by Danielle Karstens 

Members of the Colebrook Academy Key Club in New Hampshire aren’t afraid of serious issues. From staging a drunk-driving accident (for awareness) to informing the community about prescription drug abuse, the club’s past projects have proven that the team can take on even the most challenging topics. The club’s most recent issue: suicide. 

Colebrook Academy is located in Coos County, which is in the northernmost part of New Hampshire. According to the Coos County Family Health Services website, the suicide rate in Coos County is 21 percent, while the rate for the entire state is 12 percent. The rural area’s long winters and residents’ financial troubles contribute to its high rates of depression and suicide, says Stephen Brooks, the Key Club’s co-advisor. 

With this in mind, the Key Club eagerly partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to host a suicide prevention training session for their classmates. 

“We have an amazing Key Club, and I knew they were strong enough leaders to make the program a success,” Brooks says. 

Seven Key Club members, along with several adults, were trained as facilitators. They then led a voluntary half-day training session for 68 students—almost half of their Colebrook Academy classmates. 

“I’m so proud of the club and what they did,” says Lindy Falconer, Key Club co-advisor. “They let the students know that they can make a real impact by being able to recognize the warning signs of suicide.” 

Ethan Hutchinson, now a freshman at University of New Hampshire, served as one of the facilitators. One of the most difficult parts of the training was getting everyone to feel comfortable talking about suicide, he says. 

“In our town, people are very private, and they don’t like to talk about things like suicide,” Hutchinson says. “So we tossed a ball around and discussed the reasons people don’t talk about it, which helped people open up.” 

Colebrook students who attended the training learned how to recognize suicide warning signs, appropriately intervene and use resources such as hotlines. 

For the club’s efforts, the National Alliance on Mental Illness awarded it the Youth Leadership Award, and the club received the New England District’s Single Service Award

Although Hutchinson and many of his classmates haven’t needed to put their knowledge to use yet in a real-life situation, Falconer says the training has already helped save at least one life. “Some of the Key Club members were concerned about a fellow student, and they talked to me about it,” she says. “I talked to a counselor, and we talked with that child’s parents. Because of the training program, at least one life has been saved.” 

And that was definitely worth the effort.