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Bands Bond For Suicide Prevention

In the teen years, problems seem enormous enough that suicide is an option. It's in this atmosphere that Fran Gatlin, school psychologist, solves problems, hears student concerns and tries to make a difference with limited resources.

Those limited resources inspired students and musicians from Robinson and neighboring Lake Braddock Secondary Schools to link together in a fund-raiser called the "Bonding of the Bands" to help Gatlin accomplish her goal in saving lives. On Thursday, June 5, band "groupie" and Robinson junior Meghan Reed presented Gatlin with a $350 check from their "One Bad Mamma-jamma," concert, which took place on May 24 at Lake Royal.

"I know a lot of people that suffer from depression," said Meghan. "The worst part is keeping it in your head and not letting it out, it can get better."

Gatlin remembered four years ago when two Robinson students committed suicide. One of their mothers' came forward to let them know about suicide prevention and shortly after the school became the first Fairfax County school to start screening for depression. Since Robinson started screening, Thomas Jefferson and Chantilly High Schools have also started depression screening.

"The single biggest reason for suicide is depression," said Gatlin. "The depression screening gives them a chance to come forward."

Students also raised funds toward this effort at another Robinson concert. At both shows, students presented information from a 2001 Communities That Care survey conducted by Fairfax County Public Schools for eighth, 10th and 12th grades. Of those that responded, the results reflected that 34.9 percent felt sad or hopeless for days or weeks, 18.5 percent had seriously considered suicide and 8.2 percent reported one or more suicide attempts within a 12-month period.

RACHEL HARDIN, a Robinson sophomore, has heard friends talk about suicide. She thought they wanted attention.

"I know some people who have threatened to commit suicide. No one I know has gone through with it," she said.

Robinson senior Jennifer Paukovich did have a friend that went through with it. It was a friend of Jennifer's that was being home-schooled. If her friend had someone to turn to, "I think it probably would have [helped]," she said.

Paukovich attended the concert on May 24.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) was behind the concert effort for the past four years and helped promote the concerts at Lake Royal as part of the "Braddock Nights" concert series. She shared an experience at the donation ceremony when she was 17 and a friend attempted suicide.

"My friend attempted suicide. Someone knew how to talk to her, an aunt talked to her as an adult. It was that conversation that helped my friend," she said.

Adults need to take teenagers seriously, Bulova said.

"Life is long, life should be long, life can be wonderful," she said.

Currently there are 22 "Safe and Drug Free Youth School and Community Coalitions" taking part in the prevention of violence, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use by youth. It is a program funded by a 1994 federal grant that gets refunded every year. Beverly Salera, Fairfax County Public Schools resource specialist, remains hopeful year after year.

"Every year, we always have that fear that they will cut the grant," she said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also contributes to the "Safe and Drug Free Youth" program.

"Board of Supervisors has provided $112,000 a year," Bulova said, which funds middle school after-school programs.

Susan Lydick, coordinator for the Robinson Community Coalition feared that school counseling might be a victim of school budget woes.

"This would be something that would be the first to go," she said. "It should be the last."