Teen suicide is claiming an average of over 100 lives each week. According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- The suicide rate for girls doubled from the years 2007 – 2015
- For boys, the increase was 30% in the same period
- On average, more than 1 out of every 12 young people in our nation attempted suicide in the previous 12 months
As the so-called “Silent Epidemic,” it does not reveal itself until it is too late.
The January 27 suicide of CdM student Patrick Turner should have set off alarms up and down the chain of command of the district, starting with the superintendent.
Instead, students and parents are witnessing yet another attempt to sweep a major problem under the rug. But in the district’s effort to move on as quickly and efficiently as possible, they may be jeopardizing the health of the approximately 2,200 N-MUSD students who need mental health counseling.
In many of those cases, the students just need someone to talk to – someone to whom they can be, as I recently heard, “authentic.”
One would think that with this tragedy hitting so close to home that the superintendent and the trustees would drop everything and create a task force not to study the issue, but to take meaningful action right now to help prevent any more deaths.
That’s not happening. Yes, the Student Services department has policies and procedures in place, but it’s not enough. And it is alarming to see the lengths to which the trustees are going to avoid any discussion of the epidemic.
On March 2, a parent at board meeting was scolded from the dais by two trustees because she dared to broach the subject. Trustee Karen Yelsey told her not to do that again. On her way out, Trustee Vicki Snell – the current school board club president and the person who is supposed to be setting the best example – stormed out of the boardroom and condemned the members of the public, including yours truly, for speaking up.
Those are not the words and deeds of people who wish to overcome a problem.
Right now, at this very moment, the superintendent should be sounding the alarm and yelling, “All hands on deck!” Actually, he should have done that on January 28. But he takes his cues from the school board club and that is not how they choose to respond.
So what should they do? Here’s my short list, all of which are easily executed:
- Create a confidential suicide hotline strictly for N-MUSD students or partner with an existing one. Blast the hotline number everywhere, permanently, to let students know that there is someone to whom they can talk about their darkest thoughts – someone who won’t judge and can help.
- The superintendent should star in a video that is posted front and center on the district’s website. In it, he avoids the fluff and provide specific direction to troubled students and their parents.
- District messaging should be modified to stress the confidentiality of all mental health counseling opportunities. This should include specific messaging to parents to let them know that this counseling will not affect their child’s college or job opportunities.
- The superintendent should drop everything and visit all middle and high schools. Now. Students should gather for an assembly, during which the superintendent will describe the problem, tell them about the district’s resources, that they are confidential and that we really do care about helping them.
- Approach former students who have benefitted from the district’s counseling program and ask if they will get involved as a spokesperson.
- The number one barrier to treatment is stigma – stigma felt by students and by parents who attach counseling to their failure as a parent or who attach counseling to a “black mark” on their child’s record. Revise existing messaging to address the sigma barrier.
In the slowly grinding wheels of the N-MUSD (just ask teachers about the progress on campus safety), there would usually be some study sessions, discussions, and general wheel spinning before hiring a consultant to advise them.
This sound advice is free.
Taxpayer, N-MUSD Taxpayer