May 21, 2018
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New law says all Maine school workers, from teachers to bus drivers, must train to spot suicide warning signs

Amber Waterman | Sun Journal
Amber Waterman | Sun Journal
Grace Eaton holds a portrait of her son Glen Gilchrist, who was 17 in 1997 when he took his own life. "The 10th anniversary was very hard," said Eaton. "I still sometimes get mad at him, although it took me many years to get mad." Eaton worked with state lawmakers last year on a new law that mandates suicide prevention and awareness training for all Maine school employees.
By Kathryn Skelton, Sun Journal

“Bruce” knew his teenage son was stressed, overscheduled with sports, extracurriculars and a girlfriend, busy sometimes five nights a week.

He seemed to genuinely enjoy it all, and the worst of the sports season was almost over.

Bruce thought about telling his son to cut back but didn’t.

Going on two years ago, after an argument at the end of a bad day, his son killed himself.

Bruce shoulders the blame. He imagines other people must think the worst.

“‘You must have molested him, you must have beaten him with a hammer when no one was looking,'” he said. “We were just normal parents. We thought we were doing everything right. Since my kids could talk, we talked about drugs, smoking, premarital sex. The only subject I didn’t harp on with the kids was suicide. If I covered the basics, that would take care of itself.”

Bruce wishes he could stop the next kid.

Maine is trying.

Thousands of teachers, bus drivers and school lunch workers will be trained over the next three years to spot the warning signs of suicide — not to solve problems themselves so much as to whisk a troubled student to someone who can — all the result of a new state law.

Maine is one of 11 states in the country to adopt some form of mandatory training for school employees.

It’s also one of six states with a new federal suicide prevention grant, $1.2 million to spend on outreach and suicide screening through school-based health centers starting this spring.

Last year, at least 15 teenagers committed suicide in Maine; the Medical Examiner’s Office is still working on the official tally. If that number holds, it would be about twice the number who took their own lives in 2012.

Grace Eaton lost her son Glen Gilchrist 16 years ago. She pushed for the new Maine mandatory training law, rallying legislators and other parents. She’s now the school counselor at Livermore Elementary School. A year after Glen’s death, she took the training to become a “gatekeeper,” someone trained to spot the warning signs.

The signs were there — a busy senior at Mt. Blue High School, Glen was a standout athlete but hard on himself — and Eaton had asked once, point blank, would he ever commit suicide?

He’d told her of course not.

“If one teacher sees signs and helps that student, isn’t it worth it?” Eaton said. “If I could go back 16 years myself, of course I would do things differently, the things I know today. I didn’t get that chance.”

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