A local group is working to help prevent suicide loss among youths on two tracks.

The Tuscarawas/Carroll County Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group is offering suicide prevention training to teachers, students and parents. Called Gatekeeper, the program is a part of the "question, persuade and refer" model, which teaches how to recognize when someone may be suicidal. Participants learn how to get assistance for this person.

The group is also offering grants to schools for youth and teen suicide prevention programs. The money was raised by the annual suicide prevention walk held in Newcomerstown.

"Our group members do not want to see any other family suffer a loss to suicide, and I am so happy for our group to be in the position to offer grants in area schools to be used in youth/teen suicide prevention programs," said Pam Leyda, survivor of suicide loss, Gatekeeper instructor, and a suicide prevention advocate.

"Our sponsors, walkers, members of the group, and anyone else involved in making this walk a success, has made this dream of offering school grants a reality," said Jenn Dotto, a three-time survivor of suicide loss, Gatekeeper instructor, suicide prevention advocate, and one of the main fundraisers for the group.

Kristie Wilkin — facilitator of the group, a three-time survivor to suicide loss, suicide prevention advocate, and Gatekeeper instructor — is working with Dover High School counselor Michelle Grimm to get the grant applications sent to all the school counselors in Tuscarawas, Carroll, and Guernsey counties. The return deadline is April 1. Monies must be used for suicide prevention. Up to $500 can be requested for suicide prevention activities in a school system.

Grant applications will be reviewed by Todd Little, executive director of Advocacy, Choices & Empowerment, Inc., of New Philadelphia; Wilkin; and all active members of the suicide loss survivors' group.

Wilkin and Grimm are also working together to make Gatekeeper training possible for area teachers, students and parents.

"I am so excited about our partnership and the ability to bring suicide awareness training to teachers, parents and students," said Grimm, president-elect of the Ohio School Counselor Association. "With the increased pressures and expectations placed on our young people, this training is so important.

"In the 29 years I have been in education, 19 as a school counselor, the increased thoughts of suicide and mental health issues with our young people is alarming — some as young as elementary school.

"We absolutely cannot continue as a society down this path," Grimm said. "It is so important to have open dialogue about these tough topics. This training is a huge step in the right direction in making our community better and getting our young people the help they need."

Little and Wilkin are addressing what they call a myth concerning suicide: That if you talk about it, talking makes it happen.

"Often talking about it helps that person who is suicidal to know that it is OK not to be OK, and that it is OK to ask for and get help, they are cared about, and they have support to work through any issues that may be going on, and they can go on to live a happy and healthy life," Little said.

Another goal for the suicide loss survivors' support group is erasing the stigma concerning mental illness and suicide. They also have plans for suicide prevention in all age groups. It is the second leading cause of death in the ages of 8 to 23, Wilkin said.

The group plans to change this year's suicide prevention walk, scheduled for Sept. 14. More activities are to be added in the hope of involving more people in the community.

The Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group is sponsored by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Tuscarawas and Carroll Counties. The board oversees all funds raised by the group.

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month at the ADAMHS Board offices at 119 Garland Ave. SW in New Philadelphia. All survivors of suicide loss are invited to attend.

Survivors include family members, friends, and co-workers of the person that was lost to suicide.

"We are an informal group with no pressure," Wilkin said. "You can come and listen, and participate if, and when you are ready. We take part in a lot of activities throughout the year that you may find therapeutic and/or calming. We also have guest speakers, and our own private Facebook page so members know they have support at all times."

To learn more about the grants, group or Gatekeeper training, text or call Wilkin at 740-294-8496, or email her at kkwilkin61@gmail.com.