Casualty of cuts: suicide prevention
With the suicide rate in Nevada County at a record high, the likely elimination of Nevada Union High School’s crisis counselor position couldn’t come at a worse time, suicide prevention leaders say.
Because of drastic budget cuts, the Nevada Union High School Site Council has recommended eliminating the counselor position, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Ralf Swenson confirmed Monday.
The district board will make the final call at its 1 p.m. meeting today, Swenson said.
Cara Krpalek, 16, and Nevada County Suicide Task Force coordinator Jim Marquis say the cut will leave many kids without a safe place to air their problems and talk about solutions other than suicide.
As a sophomore at Nevada Union last year, Krpalek – now a Forest Charter student and member of the task force – didn’t want to burden her single father with her troubles, and it seemed there was no one else to talk to about the funk she was in.
“I was smoking marijuana, I was depressed, and I didn’t think I had a future,” Krpalek said. “There just wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to.”
The school’s crisis counselor, Terry Brodie, could sense something was wrong, approached Krpalek and asked her – persistently, Krpalek said – to join one of her counseling groups.
“I finally joined to make her be quiet,” Krpalek said.
Krpalek soon met six other girls, most of whom had attempted suicide at some point, she said.
She never would have guessed these seemingly well-adjusted girls had serious problems, too, Krpalek said. Their honesty helped her open up and begin the healing process, she said.
“It helped us all to talk about it, to say something about what had been eating at us,” Krpalek said. “It felt safe.”
When she began to feel understood, she said, the suicidal thoughts waned.
Removal of the counselor position will leave students without a therapeutic presence on school grounds, and it will be up to them to seek help, Marquis said.
The stigma attached to talking about suicide will have even more power without a trained, accessible counselor to battle it, he said.
The Union reported last week that the number of suicides, 24, is the highest it’s been since the county’s chief deputy coroner began keeping computerized records in 1994.
The announcement has breathed new life into the local suicide prevention movement, Marquis said.
The school district regrets many of the budget cuts it will have to make, including the crisis counselor position, Swenson said.
“This has nothing to do with wanting to eliminate the position,” he said. “A lot of these decisions are painful. Even though they are things we value, we may need to live without them for awhile. We don’t ever want to do these things, but you have to be responsible by not spending money you don’t have.”
Brodie could not be reached for comment Monday.
Marquis said eradication of the counselor position may be inevitable, but in the meantime, he’s planning a “safe talk” class April 25 in Nevada City, where suicide prevention experts will discuss ways to identify people with thoughts of suicide and how to connect them to suicide prevention resources, he said.
Afterward, people who show interest in becoming peer counselors – all ages, from teenagers to senior citizens – will be invited to attend training sessions.
Peer counseling is one of the best ways to intervene with suicide, he said, because it doesn’t leave the task of seeking help up to the suicidal person, who may never reach out until it’s too late.
“Our goal is a 50 percent reduction in suicides,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
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