Lake Orion Students Grow Support System To Prevent Suicide

By Crystal A. Proxmire

George Edwards believes that "everything happens for a reason." And though his son Ryan died on Nov. 9, 2011 of suicide at the age of 22, he hopes that his death might be a wake-up call to save the lives of other young people.

Edwards came together with other parents and employees within the Lake Orion School District to start an anti-suicide program.

Lake Orion SOS (Students Offering Support) has now grown to a movement with over 300 high school students having been trained and done presentations for over 2,700 other youth. Students from SOS were honored by the Oakland County Commissioners on Oct. 2 with a special proclamation.

"As a result of their efforts we came up with a school tool kit to help the districts in ways to deal with this issue, ways to begin talking, what numbers to call and what people to rely on," said Director of Department of Health and Human Services George Miller. The movement also prompted posters to be placed in all schools saying "Don't face your problems alone, talk to someone you trust." The posters were paid for with funding from Easter Seals, Oakland County Health Department, Community Mental Health and private donations. The students also presented information on their program to students from other districts at the Oakland County Student Leadership Conference.

Lake Orion Superintendent Marian Ginopolis explained the program and its emphasis on student leadership. "If we don't get young people involved in helping one another, nothings going to happen," Ginopolis said.

The purpose of SOS is to create a culture of awareness about teen crisis, break down barriers and stigma surrounding metal health issues and youth suicide, and provide on-going peer-to-peer support. Students are trained in how to speak to large groups of people. They are trained in the warning signs of teen crisis and to know available resources, and they all come up with a list of personal resources - five people they can turn to when they need help.

SOS students presented their program to other youth through the school district as part of the Oakland County Student Leadership Conference, and Ginopolis is working on connections so that the Lake Orion teens can visit other districts to share this information.

"I've had personal experience with the whole crisis thing so it was easy to really do and I just wanted to help other people out with the same problem and I thought it was a great cause," said one Lake Orion sophomore. Her advice to others would be "if they know someone who is going through a really rough time they wanna make sure that you can talk to them, make sure that they know who they can go to, and if you're going through a rough time you need to think about that it's not you. I mean, everyone goes through it and you really need to make sure you get your own help because you're worth it."

Middle School Teacher Carl Zoolkoski is one of the adults involved in the program. "In November of 2011 there were two, they were not in high school but they were like 19, 20-year-olds that were graduates. But they made it nine suicides of teens or young adults over about a three year period," he said. "And so it just became a sense of urgency that we really needed to try and do something. At first we didn't know what that something would be, but thanks to Mrs. Ginopolis' leadership it really got the ball rolling."

Recently in Royal Oak an anti-suicide movement called Royal Oak SAFE hosted an event to rally the community around suicide prevention. Read about that at http://oaklandcounty115.com/royal-oak-safe-addresses-issue-of-suicide-video/.

For more on Lake Orion Schools go to http://www.lakeorion.k12.mi.us/school_home.aspx?schoolid=1.

For more on Oakland County Health Department's suicide prevention program visit http://www.oakgov.com/health/Pages/initiatives/suicideprevention.aspx.


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