It’s a day he may never forget. And while it is painful to remember as well as to talk about, Dr. Jonathan Lasson, 42, a certified school psychologist for the Maryland State Department of Education, believes it’s a day that warrants memory, and a memory that must be shared.
Oct. 4, 2012 began like any other day. Lasson was working in his office when he was called to a classroom to assess an elementary student who was expressing suicidal ideation.
“When I went upstairs, the student was being held back by a paraprofessional staff member. They wanted me to do an emergency petition for him to be taken to the hospital,” he said.
While Lasson was on the phone with a school police officer, the paraprofessional, believing the student to be sufficiently calm, loosened his restraint.
“He bolted toward the window. I was the closest to it, and when he was halfway out of the open window, I grabbed him and pulled him back in. He fell back onto my left hand,” Lasson recalled. Lasson suffered a torn thumb tendon and required surgery to correct the damage. Lasson’s left index finger was operated on unnecessarily. The unnecessary surgery has caused lasting injury.
The suicidal student was transported to the University of Maryland, where he was hospitalized. Lasson discovered that the suicide attempt had not been the student’s first.
He was out of school for three months handling his injuries. Shortly after he returned to work in January 2013, Lasson learned that a former student from a different school had succeeded in taking his own life.
“I had worked with him for about two years, and we had a nice rapport,” said Lasson. “So I attended the viewing. They had an open casket, and as soon as I walked in, I saw his face. I don’t think I would have gone if I had [known] there [was going to be] an open casket. It re-traumatized me. Just think, a youngster feeling so distraught that he wants to take his own life.”
While many mental health professionals focus on the biological origins of mental illness, Lasson said he believes that environmental stressors play a major role in making children emotionally disturbed.
“These kids are from impoverished neighborhoods, and a lot of them suffer from abuse and neglect. Once I led a support group for students after one of their classmates was murdered. When I asked the kids in the group about their experiences with violence, each of them told me they didn’t expect to live past the age of 24 or 25.”
Reluctantly, Lasson has come forward to share what he has learned in his 14 years as an inner city school psychologist.
“I’ve become more aware of the red flags, which a lot of people miss,” he said.
What are those signs?
>>When a child has been depressed for a long period of time and all of a sudden he or she is doing well, don’t be complacent. When they come to thank you for all your help, saying they no longer need treatment, this can mean they have come to peace with the decision to end their lives.
>>Students who have made previous suicide attempts may be at greater risk of succeeding. On the other hand, Lasson noted, this could also be a cry for help.
>>Sometimes kids express themselves through art or other creative pursuits. Look for warning signs in the ways they express themselves through art, play and writing.
>>Children who give away belongings that are meaningful to them. This could signal their belief that they won’t need those items once they are dead.
“It’s important for people to realize what mental health professionals are up against,” he said. “We get a lot of bad press, but how many suicides do mental health professionals prevent?”
For additional information about suicide prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at afsp.org.
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter