MASSILLON, Ohio-- The Perry Local School District in Stark County is mourning the loss of another student to suicide in what health officials call a "suicide contagion."
School officials held a news conference following the latest death at the Perry Township Police Department Friday afternoon. Superintendent Scott Beatty, joined by area health professionals, was clearly emotional as he shared the news.
"We will not give up. We will continue to fight for our young people, our families and our community," Beatty said.
Last week, a student at Edison Middle School died and three students in the district took their own lives in the fall. School officials said six current or former students have committed suicide this school year. They have all occurred outside of school hours.
Although some parents and Perry students have suggested that bullying played a role in some of the suicides, Perry Township police maintain they have not found any evidence of that.
"I think it's important to reveal that these investigations are identifying multiple factors, not a singular issue and a factor that has not come up in these investigations is in fact bullying," said Police Chief Michael Pomesky.
"Suicide is not caused by one particular event," said Carole Vesely from the Crisis Intervention and Recovery Center.
She said family conflict or a break up can contribute, adding parents need to realize how traumatic these things are for teens.
"The day a person takes their own life is not the first time they have thought about suicide," Vesely said.
She described this recent wave of student deaths as a "suicide contagion." According to Vesely, there is not enough research to determine what exactly causes a contagion.
"Simply being a teenager, simply going to the same school may be the connection. If we knew more, we could be able to address it more. But the bottom line is, when we are dealing with a contagion, we have to identify how do we start looking at potential suicides or risk factors that might pull young people in," Vesely said.
Parents should look for changes in behavior, including quitting activities, or different sleeping and eating habits. The district is even teaching students how to recognize these changes in their friends and encouraging them to report them to an adult.
But being aware of risk factors isn't enough. Vesely said, while it may be difficult, parents need to start a dialogue with children about suicide. It can start with this simple question, "Are you thinking about suicide?"
Perry Local Schools has implemented support programs, including adding two guidance counselors at the high school and using anti-bullying programs. The district also hosted three community meetings and group meetings with students.