TMS brings awareness of suicide

Torrington Middle School Principal, James Catlin, has made the topic of depression and suicide awareness a priority since beginning the position late last summer. Catlin believes that with allowing students and teachers just one hour a week to open up their feelings, this can greatly reduce the risk of children falling victim to mental health difficulties. Rhett Breedlove/Torrington Telegram

TORRINGTON – For some, middle school can be a wonderful connecting bridge from childhood on into the teenage years.

Children find themselves in a unique, almost philosophical position after finishing elementary school. A vast majority may find the new atmosphere of changing classes, staying locker-organized, and having several teachers in a single day exciting.

It also symbolizes perhaps the beginning of the end for one’s childhood. Dozens of new people come into the picture, and things began to change.

For others however, especially depending on the specifics of their situation, the transition can be overwhelming; even terrifying.

Since taking on the high-demand responsibilities at the start of the term, Torrington Middle School (TMS) Principal, James Catlin, has begun building a solid foundation of inclusion, acceptance and compassion for every single student at TMS.

With the state of Wyoming consistently ranked at the top of the National Suicide Rate (NSR), Catlin and his staff believe that the middle school age group is perfect for installing a positive and confident mindset, hopefully for years to come.

“We have a couple of things going on,” Catlin began. “We are doing a weekly group with our behavior interventionist. We are all just searching for human connections, and kids aren’t always experiencing it the way we did as children. It can be a lonely world for everybody. Ultimately at different times, we can all feel alone or lonely, and we die alone sooner or later. In the meantime, we can all occasionally starve for human connection.”

In that regard, the staff of TMS have introduced an advisory period once a week each Wednesday. The period gives each student as well as one assigned teacher a perfect opportunity to forget about the pressure of education for one hour, and build sincere human connections with each other.

The period focuses on sharing and encouraging positive thoughts and goals with each student. Friendships, family, spirituality, physical health, mental health and generosity are all topics that are focused on and discussed.

“I think that’s what our advisory period is all about,” Catlin continued. “It’s letting them have a real opportunity to reach out and connect with other kids, and with a trusted adult. The struggle we get into is the impulsivity of youth, especially at the middle and even high school levels. They don’t yet understand that most of the time, that this too will pass. It becomes a crisis where they feel they can’t think their way out of it. We try to give them more on what they can do other than fall into that horrible, and false frame of mind that the ‘world is a better place without me.’”

Connection became the word Catlin used over and over when discussing the topic of depression and suicide among Wyoming’s youth. When asked why the rate is still so high in Wyoming, Catlin noted several possibilities including modern overuse, or even irresponsible use of cell phones and social media. The use of drugs and alcohol, long term feelings of isolation and rejection, along with easy access to firearms were also discussed.

“I have a firm belief that cell phones are contributing,” Catlin continued. “It’s not as real as it should be, and then there’s Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram. Then you throw alcohol or drugs on top of that with an easy availability to guns. I would like to see a lot less social media, because it’s much harder to bully someone to their face. As far as trolling, kids need to know that you can block people. We haven’t had a huge issue this year, but there have been a few incidences. Kids have it rough. Any outlet you can get a kid involved in whether it be 4-H, church, sports, music, drama or art; all of those are great and wonderful things. We have to acknowledge that although video games are fun, the gamification of these things are designed to get kids addicted to that stuff.  I would like for us to have more open and frank conversations about suicide. It’s not going to increase the risk when you talk about it, which has always been a concern. People sometimes think that by talking about suicide, it plants a negative seed in their brains. I don’t think that’s the case.”

Catlin continued with the advocation, and encouragement of all students along with their families to try and stay as involved with school district activities as much as possible. As the TMS Principal once again put it, more personal interactions brings connection and far less isolation.

This, and one other old-school tradition that doesn’t seem to happen so much anymore.

“I would like to see families come and bring their kids lunch,” Catlin smiled. “It piddles out a bit in middle school and definitely in high school, but nothing makes a kid feel more special than a parent having the guts to bring your kid a burger or pizza. Sit down and have lunch with them. Parents are always welcome to bring lunch and eat with their kids. They need to know you care and that we do. They need you now more than ever. Every time I see a parent I say thank you so much for coming. Bring them a pizza and a coke once in a while. If you can afford it take them out to eat. It’s not something we do every day of course, but it’s important once in a while.”

As Catlin returned to his office to handle the never-ending business of overseeing middle school education, the fresh TMS Principal had some final words for students, staff and the community.

He said with a warm welcoming beam, “Sometimes we do feel bad. It’s part of the human condition. Maybe you feel isolated, a girlfriend broke up with you, or you’re losing your best friend. Don’t do anything permanent. The best of us as human beings need to reach out. We are all in this human condition together. Let’s have some empathy for one another. We don’t know where everyone is coming from. It doesn’t mean I have to endorse anyone else’s lifestyle or promote it, but it’s a hard world. For some when the bell rings the drama stops, while for others it may continue or even get worse. We are at a point where it’s very confusing for kids nowadays. Things like gender and sexuality are not a hard and fast rule, and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what a family looks like.”

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