Counseling department hosts Signs of Suicide program


Students believe that the topics discussed in the presentation could be readily applied, in a period when online schooling has put a noticeable strain on peers.

By Vishnu Dandi

In cooperation with MCPS policy, Whitman implemented the Signs of Suicide prevention program— a mandatory informational seminar designed to help students identify and react to depressive and suicidal behavior— on Wednesday. The program highlighted how the virtual learning environment can impact mental health.

Administrators held separate sessions for each grade level during different time slots. Juniors and seniors met during their respective sessions from 10:15–11:15 a.m., while freshmen and sophomores signed online in the afternoon from 12:30–1:30 p.m. 

Two Whitman counselors led each discussion. The webinar, prepared by MCPS, shared video testimonies from individuals who have experienced suicidal thoughts and actions. Towards the end, the program promoted crisis hotlines, suicide prevention chats and other communication resources which had allowed individuals to reach out for help.  

The session specifically emphasized mental health during the pandemic. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Montgomery County Public Schools remain committed to mental health,” said William Toth, the head of Whitman’s counseling department. “Signs of Suicide Prevention Program will occur once yearly. It is a suicide prevention program that has demonstrated an improvement in students’ knowledge and adaptive attitudes towards suicide risk and depression.”

Students believe that the topics discussed in the presentation could be readily applied to their own lives, in a period when online schooling has put a noticeable strain on peers. 

“Today’s presentation touched on mental health in the virtual environment, which is very important,” senior Alec Cooper said. “The videos from individuals who experienced suicidal thoughts made the situation feel a lot more real.”

Counselors leading the seminar echoed students’ sentiments, especially on the role that strategies for better understanding mental health have played these past several months.

“The pandemic presents its challenges, but we are trained to help all students during their rough patches,” counselor William Kapner said. “It’s important to start the process and reach out to someone you trust.”   

At the end of the presentation, counselors instructed students to fill out a Google Form with their contact information and to state whether they would like to talk about themselves or any troubling signs they have noticed among their friends. The questionnaire also served as a way to mark student’s attendance.

Four Whitman counselors who were not leading the presentation remained available in Zoom classrooms if any students felt they needed to talk or ask questions. 

After the afternoon seminar concluded at 1:40 p.m., counselors remained available during Walt Wisdom time, until 2:40 p.m., for any students who wished to discuss presentation-related comments or their own dealings with mental health.

“Whitman and MCPS continue to make mental health a priority,” sophomore Sean Cunniff said. “Even with the challenge of virtual learning, I feel that I have learned necessary skills to help myself and others.”