The old saying is, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

This is now appropriate for two school board club members whose too-quick criticism of a concerned N-M parent came back to bite them, courtesy of the Orange County Register.

This morning, the Register published the third of three excellent articles by David Whiting on the subject of teen suicide. Yesterday’s story included extensive coverage of the January 27 suicide of CdM Hight student Patrick Turner.

Several weeks ago, I told the school board club that the stigma attached to mental health counseling is the number one barrier to treatment.

On March 2, that concerned parent tried to open a discussion about teen suicide, specifically, the suicide of Patrick Turner, but she was scolded by two of the club members, Vicki Snell and Karen Yelsey. Yelsey asked the parent not to broach the subject of Turner’s death unless she has permission from the family.

By doing this, the trustees have given support to the stigma. By not encouraging an open and frank discussion of the problem, they have told parents and students in the district that mental health issues are not something to be discussed publicly; that silence is the best approach.

The district’s handling of Patrick Turner’s suicide is perpetuating the air of stigma attached to counseling. As leaders in this district, they may, in fact, have done tremendous damage to the progress of the approximately 2,200 district students who are estimated to be candidates for mental health counseling.

Their attempts to erase the memory of Patrick Turner may be doing serious damage to a promising district suicide prevention program.

The Register published Turner’s letter addressed as “To family and friends and whoever reads this.” In it, Turner left us all a great gift, one that is now being ignored by the district.

Turner described the social and academic pressure in great detail and told us what we need to do to correct the situation. It’s a wake-up call – Note that the Register title in the URL includes “cry for help” and “call for change.” But the school board club is still sleeping; still stuck in the ancient mentality that mental health issues are best handled by not handling them. They cannot change.

You can read it here:

When the district realizes that the best way to treat mental health issues is to treat them like physical health issues, there will be progress. Unfortunately, I do not see that happening with this current crop of trustees.

This is one of the many reasons I encourage you to support new candidates this election year. The four seats up for grabs are Metoyer, Davenport, Franco, and Yelsey.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD