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Northgate HS crisis counselors address teen suicide attempt

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 at 8:06 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

In light of the recent suicide attempt at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord, crisis counselors from nearby Northgate High in Walnut Creek sent a message to parents addressing the issue of teen suicide. I have received permission to reprint their message in my blog:

“From the office of the Crisis Counselors, Michelle Dooner and Jill Sabotka

Many of you probably know that a student at Ygnacio Valley High School recently attempted suicide in the middle of his 6th period class. Thankfully, some of his peers saw this and intervened. They were able to stop him and he is currently recovering at the hospital. This incident hits us particularly hard because Y.V. is part of our community, it’s our neighboring school, we have friends that go there, we compete against it in sports, etc.

As parents, you may have experienced a wide range of emotions upon hearing the news, from shock to sadness to outrage to horror to dismay to anxiety and much more. Your children are experiencing their own set of feelings regarding this incident. It’s all over Facebook and we can be quite certain that this information might not be entirely accurate.

This would be an excellent opportunity to talk to your child about what they’ve heard, what they believe, and how they feel about what happened. If your child isn’t talking about it, don’t hesitate to bring it up. Most likely, he or she has heard of it. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in adolescents. Talking about what the suicidal student must have been feeling and what his peers must have gone through as witnesses can open the door to a much deeper conversation about suicide in general. Being open to hearing what your child has to say and not responding with shock or disapproval but simply by listening will enable you to have a healthy conversation with your child. Your openness shows that your are taking your child seriously, which in turn will make him or her want to continue to talk. One of the most important aspects of teen suicide prevention is support. Your child needs to know that you support and love him or her unconditionally.

The following information has been taken from and has been included in this article to be used as a guide and reference point.

Causes of teen suicide

There are several different factors that made lead a teenager to take his or her life, but the most common is depression. Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, along with feelings of being trapped in a life that one can’t handle, are very real contributors to teen suicide. In some cases, teenagers believe that suicide is the only way to solve their problems. The pressures of life seem too much to cope with, and some teenager look at suicide as a welcome escape.

Other factors that may contribute to teen suicide include:

Divorce of parents.
Violence in the home.
Inability to find success at school.
Feelings of worthlessness.
Rejection by friends or peers.
Substance abuse.
Death of someone close to the teenager.
The suicide of a friend or someone he or she “knows” online.
Signs that your teenager may attempt suicide

It is important to be on the look out for signs that your teen may attempt suicide. What is so difficult about some of these warning signs of teen suicide is that some of them are similar to normal adolescent behavior. The teenage years are a trying time, and sometimes normal behavior looks a lot like possibly destructive behavior. But it doesn’t hurt to look into the following warning signs of teen suicide:

Talks about death and/or suicide (maybe even with a joking manner).
Plans ways to kill him or herself.
Expresses worries that nobody cares about him or her.
Has attempted suicide in the past.
Dramatic changes in personality and behavior.
Withdraws from interacting with friends and family.
Shows signs of depression.
Shows signs of a substance abuse problem.
Begins to act recklessly and engage in risk-taking behaviors.
Begins to give away sentimental possessions.
Spends time online interacting with people who glamorize suicide and maybe even form suicide pacts.
Preventing teen suicide

Often, preventing teen suicide means treating teen depression. Since 75 percent of the people who commit suicide are depressed, it is a good start to begin by treating the symptoms of teen depression.

It is possible to get professional help in preventing teen suicide. Indeed, this is a preferred option. If you are concerned about your teenager, talk to your child’s doctor about the available options and therapies for teen depression. You should see someone immediately (and never leave your teen alone) if you suspect that a suicide attempt is imminent. Some things you might try include:

Counseling. This can be done individually or as a family. Techniques allow your teenager to learn to cope with life. Often, when a teen learns how to handle problems (and families learn how to help), the desire to kill him or herself dissipates.

Residential treatment. This is treatment in which a suicidal teen goes elsewhere to live for a time. This can be a special treatment facility, or it can be a therapeutic boarding school. In these settings, the teenager is monitored 24/7 in order to prevent a suicide attempt. Additionally, most residential treatment facilities have trained professional staff that can help a suicidal teen.

Medication. This is often seen as a last resort, or as something complementary to other treatments. It is important to note that in some teenagers, medication can have the opposite effect desired; some studies show that for some teens anti-depressants actually increase the chance of teen suicide. Carefully consider your teen’s needs before medicating.

Please know that if you have concerns that you want to discuss, you may call us at 925-938-3921. We are here to talk to you.

There is a great deal of information about teen suicide on the internet. Here are a few websites:

The Contra Costa Crisis Center is also a great resource:

1-800- SUICIDE

The National Suicide Hotline:


The California Youth Crisis Hotline:


Thanks to Northgate High for this information. Northgate is fortunate to have crisis counselors on campus, through funding from the city of Walnut Creek and the school’s Parent Faculty Club.

Do you have any other suggestions for helping teens in crisis?

MARCH 16 UPDATE: I spoke to Ygnacio Valley High Principal Bill Morones today, who told me the student’s outlook has improved since the suicide attempt March 2, although he has not yet returned to school.

“The student is in a much better state of mind than he was at the time of the incident,” Morones said.

The school’s student services coordinators and psychologist, along with district crisis counselors, helped the campus community deal with the emotional impact in the days afterward.

Morones said he was extremely proud of the students who intervened and of the entire student body’s reaction.

“Our students are extremely resilient,” he said. “The feedback that I got from our crisis counselors was they were just overwhelmed by our students’ compassion and the caring they exhibited toward the student and his family.”

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  • Doctor J

    Are quality “Crisis Counselors” only available for the “rich kids” at Northgate or does every MDUSD High School have them available ? Kudos to Michelle and Jill for being proactive and reaching out to the students AND parents. I think we need to examine why this kind of service is not made available in EVERY high school in our district — we have a $43 million dollar surplus. From the Northgate web site: “For the past fifteen years Northgate students and families have been able to take advantage of the Crisis Counseling Services offered on campus. Through a combination of PFC, City of Walnut Creek and school district funding, three family counselors are available to meet with students and families. Referrals to the crisis counselors can be made by faculty, parents, fellow students and students themselves. The services are free to Northgate students and their families. A crisis counselor is on campus every day.” What’s good for the goose, should be good for the gander. Flood the Board and Supt with emails on this important issue.

  • Linda L

    Doctor J,
    Is that really how you think or does it just work well? I have watched Northgate treated this way time after time and it is getting VERY old.
    Those parents who have been instrumental in making this happen at Northgate are the kinds of people who would happily sit down and try to help other schools obtain the same services. This has been a parent driven effort with continual pleas for fundraising and pressure on the City to keep the program in place. Don’t make it ugly.

  • Doctor J

    @LL, I applaud the counseling service, as I said — every high school would be wise in having it — of course the “rich kids” reference is just a smoke screen which other schools hide behind. Where does the funding come from ? I wish we had a breakdown so other schools could emulate this practice — would it have made a difference at YVHS ? Monday morning quarterbacking won’t tell us. Funding sources: PFC, City of WC, and MDUSD. The real question we ought to ask ourselves is why does only ONE high school have this program. Where is the district leadership to promote this practice ? And I should have also highly praised those courageous students who intervened to save a life. I would love to see the budget and sources of revenue.

  • Anon

    Doc J is right with one omission. Northgate crisis counselors are supported by the WC City Council which supports this important program city-wide, also in the Walnut Creek and Acalanes schools. It has a positive impact on school atmosphere and undoubtedly the community crime rate and overall quality of life. Parents in each city can request their city council to fund this program.

  • Anon

    my two cents is crisis counselors may be great but big brother MDUSD should not control this program . . .

  • Doctor J

    @#4 According to the school website, the WC City Council is just one of four sources of funding, which includes MDUSD. We need a breakdown.

  • Doctor J

    Intersting how Board member liasons with the various City Council’s might be a wonderful idea to promote joint funding to benefit students and families.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Trustee Gary Eberhart has expressed an interest in developing closer ties to the Concord City Council, but he said the district still has issues with the Clayton City Council that need to be addressed, such as the gym agreement.
    Although the city of Pleasant Hill has an Education Commission, it does not include a district representative.
    I have heard from Walnut Creek reporter Elisabeth Nardi that an advocate for separating Walnut Creek schools from MDUSD has been showing up at city meetings to push for that cause. When the council was considering cutting funding for the crisis counselors, advocates from Las Lomas and Northgate pleaded with city leaders to continue the funding. Their vocal advocacy appears to have persuaded the City Council to continue the funding.

  • g

    It may not be coincidence that we are unable to find even one single city council who wants to buddy-up with the Eberhart they have come to know over the years.

    Gary should take an honest look at his own lack of personal accomplishment and just ‘fess’ up and move on.

    He may have been able to ride on the laurels of being an undereducated high school drop-out who managed to be elected to the school board, and he may have been able to fudge and falsify a full 75% of his so-called credentials enough to fool the average voter, but city leaders don’t just come out once every few years to vote, without studying the candidate or issues. They know with whom they are dealing.

    They know the difference between accurate and honest too. They may occasionally play his kind of game, but they know better than to play it on his turf.

  • Just J

    Thank you for giving this information to everyone! I can’t help but notice that some of the reasons stated are: Inability to find success at school.
    Feelings of worthlessness.
    Rejection by friends or peers.
    The first one Inability to find success in school is one of the main reasons for self esteem issues and refection of peers. This is a growing problem in all schools and needs to be addressed now! We have a very serious problem in our schools. This is not just a local problem this is a problem with our society.

    Thank goodness that the WC city Council is helping fund the program. I wish MDUSD would start looking at the bigger picture here.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I have just posted an update with information from Ygnacio Valley High Principal Bill Morones, who said the student is doing much better now, although he hasn’t yet returned to school.

  • **anon

    i’m so relieved to hear that this student is doing much better. @Just J: i would agree that this is a societal problem and could happen to any of our children. Regardless of the identified signs of a child in distress, adolescents in general become less communicative and don’t share feelings. Thank goodness that this student was spared. I would also agree that MDUSD should look into working with the city councils to fund a suicide prevention program for all of our high schools.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The Contra Costa Crisis Center is working with some schools regarding more general “at risk” issues, but I’m not sure if any are in MDUSD: