Kenny McKinley's death backdrop for Denver Public Schools suicide prevention program

The death by suicide of Denver Bronco Kenny McKinley, whose funeral today may be protested by the Westboro Baptist Church, has brought new attention to the subject of suicide in general. In many ways, that's a good thing -- but it also has drawbacks according to Denver Public Schools' Kristy Armstrong, speaking just prior to a DPS suicide-prevention event planned long before McKinley's final act.

At 10:15 a.m. today, a Signs of Suicide class will be taught to students at George Washington High School, 655 S. Monaco Parkway. The timing of this project launch, to which the media has been invited, was initially prompted by September's designation as Suicide Prevention Month. The release on the meeting went out on September 17, several days before McKinley died.

"This is a curriculum DPS is rolling out to all sixth and ninth graders over the next few years," Armstrong explains. The press was invited, she adds, "because we want media to dig deeper into a topic that doesn't always get touched on. And we know that education in suicide helps prevent it in young people, as opposed to when people don't talk about it."

Regarding McKinley's death, "we are expecting students to ask questions about it," Armstrong says. And addressing such inquiries well could save even more lives than might normally be the case because "when a high-profile figure, such as a member of the Broncos, commits suicide, that tends to raise the teen suicide rate nationwide," she continues. "That's something unique to a high-profile figure. It brings copycats."

Some of the advice George Washington students will hear shortly can also be applied to adults. "One of the keys is to help children recognize the signs of suicide in other students," Armstrong says, "and in the case of the Broncos, I remember hearing reports that none of his fellow players recognized that this was happening to him."

Once students do perceive a concern, she goes on, "we want them to know there's a support system. We want to have them feel comfortable coming and talking about it, and to know that there's somebody out there to listen."

To learn more about suicide, click to visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts