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Reality seeps in as Pinellas educators learn to spot mental health problems in students

The woman in a cozy teal knit sweater with matching Chuck Taylor sneakers faced the stranger next to her and asked a dark question.

“Have you ever thought about killing yourself?”

As she said it, Carmen Bender, a reading interventionist at Lealman Avenue Elementary, remembered the time years ago when a counselor asked the same question of her. It was after her teenage son died in a car crash.

Now, 15 years later, it came up in a role-playing exercise during a youth mental health first aid training session hosted by the Pinellas County school district. Bender and her colleagues practiced on each other by asking the question — which is considered a suicide intervention tool to be used when a student’s behavior warrants it.

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