Area schools have plans in place to combat alarming trend, reach vulnerable students
A newly released report by the Kansas Child Death Review Board shows the number of youth suicides in 2017 jumped more than 50% over those in 2016.
While 20 youths died by suicide in 2016, 32 did in 2017.
These numbers reflect an alarming rise in suicides by young people this past decade. In 2017, the youth suicide rate was 4.5 per 100,000 population.
It was 1.3 per 100,000 population a decade ago.
According to the report, 66% had previously received or were receiving mental health services at the time of their death. In 28%, the youth had a history of substance abuse. Eighteen were male and 14 female.
The report also said adolescent females are more likely to attempt suicide, but adolescent males are more likely to complete it.
In 2016, the state legislature passed a bill requiring school districts to implement suicide awareness measures. Schools must train all staff members to recognize the signs of a suicidal young person and make training available to parents.
School staff are required to take at least one hour of training each year.
Marion County’s schools have each adopted their own initiatives to combat youth suicide as well.
Marion high school principal Travis Rogers said the first part of the school’s suicide awareness project is educating staff on what signs to look for among students.
If staff sees something that alerts them that the student is struggling, Rogers or the school counselor will engage with the student.
“The time they are here I want them to feel safe and know there are people who are here and they care,” Rogers said. “My hope is they feel comfortable somewhere on our campus.”
School assemblies have tackled suicide awareness. The school has been presenting information and topics during assembly that reflect on suicide awareness, depression, bullying, and similar subjects.
The school will get outside resources involved when needed.
“I’ve been researching a tip type app,” Rogers said. “Basically it’s an anonymous tip line.”
Students who see that another student is struggling can text the app to make an anonymous report so the school can follow up on the situation.
“They see it, but they don’t want to report it,” Rogers said.
“As we go, we learn more and make sure we’re available for our kids,” Rogers said.
Hillsboro High School principal Clint Corby said the school focuses heavily on building relationships between faculty and students so young people feel they have someone to confide in if they are struggling.
“We have a protocol we go through if it gets to a point where a student verbalizes they want to harm themselves, and we give our teachers the resources to recognize warning signs,” Corby said.
Social workers, counselors, administrators, teachers, and parents are all part of the plan, he said.
“We make sure that every student has a positive relationship with at least one faculty member,” he said.
Building strong relationships is key to helping students, he said.
Youth suicide rates are riding every year, and the problem doesn’t belong only to schools, Corby said. It belongs to society.
“We schools have to do our best,” Corby said. “We take all threats of any sort seriously. Our number one priority is our students’ safety.”
Peabody High School principal Scott Kimble said their schools seek to engage students with hardship and struggles in their lives.
“We utilize capturing kids’ hearts with our awareness,” he said.
Peabody’s staff seeks to create a network of caring people a student can turn to.
“We try to be trauma-informed,’ Kimble said.
Students’ home life is not always the best. When there is a discipline issue in the school, there’s always a relationship that needs to be repaired, he said.
“We try to sit down with them and let them talk about it in a safe environment,” he said. “We try to realize that a lot of them are in the same boat. A lot of them face the same circumstances.”