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Mattituck students help teach suicide prevention to local youth

Twenty Mattituck High School juniors and seniors gathered in the school library Monday morning for a presentation on suicide prevention.

During the day-long session, students not only learned about the facts and warning signs of suicide, but were given tips on how to be better public speakers.

Those strategies will come in handy later this year, when these upperclassmen will give similar presentations to students in ninth, tenth and twelfth grades.

In subsequent years, the student-driven presentations will be given only for ninth-graders and seniors.

“Our hope is that the presentations will pass on helpful information about the signs that students should be aware of and how to intervene with a student who may be at risk for suicide,” said Andrea Nydegger, student assistance social worker. “Also, that the student presenters will be seen as role models and supportive peers to the school community.”

Ms. Nydegger said she and high school guidance counselor Michelle Fussa had seen growing concern in the district around the topic of suicide, especially with last year’s release of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”

The juniors and seniors participated in numerous events during the peer education training, which included answering true/false questions about suicide facts, watching informational videos and participating in numerous games.

Senior Joy Davis, 17, said that when she learned about the program from Ms. Nydegger, she was immediately interested in participating. Ms. Davis is also a member of the high school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club.

“It’s important to have an open conversation about suicide and what leads to suicide,” said Joy, who is also a member of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions group. “I think to start with prevention we need to have a conversation first.”

Fellow senior Taylor Larsen, also 17, agreed, saying it’s especially beneficial to have students talking to students about such an important issue.

She said the rapid growth of technology has created both new problems and new ways to communicate, opening a gap between adults and students. She hopes that if students converse with each other, the important messages will be better received.

“I feel that this is also kind of new for this generation just because when you look back and listen to your parents talk about their childhood they never went through a lot of suicidal kids in their school,” Taylor said. “Especially with technology evolving and humans evolving with the nature of technology, cyber bullying is a completely new thing. And it’s really hard for adults to understand it because they didn’t grow up with it.”

Joy and Taylor said they’re excited that the district has launched the suicide prevention peer education program, and hope it’ll be a step toward creating a larger conversation about the topic in the future.

Ms. Nydegger said the program is modeled after an existing one at Sayville High School. John Martin, Deborah Sermet and Bonnie Anderson, all senior public health educators with the Suffolk County Department of Health, were also involved with aspects of Monday’s peer education training session.

“To run workshops with your peers is just so courageous,” Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith said. “I’m so proud of the students.”

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Photo: John Martin teaches Mattituck High School students a game about beneficial public speaking techniques Monday. The students were participating in suicide prevention peer education training and will make presentations to underclassmen about suicide prevention throughout the school year. (Credit: Nicole Smith)