What Techniques Are Schools Using To Prevent Suicides?

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Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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One terrible consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in mental health issues and suicides among minors, and schools are now beginning to fight back with programs and techniques aimed at combatting the detrimental mental health effects of lockdowns.

Numerous studies have shown that the isolation and inactivity that results from remote-learning and lockdown measures have made America’s kids more depressed, anxious, and suicidal. One of the places that’s most clear is Clark County, Nevada, where the country’s fifth-largest school district has seen a dramatic spike in student suicides.

By Dec. 2020, 18 Clark County students had taken their own lives, double the rate of the previous school year. In the spring, the district began monitoring students’ iPads, which are issued by the district to every student for educational use, for warning signs of suicidal thoughts or intent to self-harm.

Clark County had to upgrade its service in November to include 24-hour monitoring and the ability to discern “severe cases” from others. The system reportedly sent 3,100 alerts between March  2020 and Jan. 2021, and has potentially saved the lives of some children.

For instance, officials were alerted when one 12-year old student used his iPad to search for “how to make a noose.”

Clark County educators aren’t the only ones who have had to adapt to this increasingly common problem. (RELATED: What Is A ‘Suicide Cluster,’ And Why Has COVID Increased Them?)

State legislators in Utah are considering a bill that would expand suicide prevention training from grades 7-12 to include K-6 students as well, according to KSL. The bill would introduce anti-bullying training into elementary schools. Studies have shown that even young children are experiencing more mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas has been recognized for its efforts regarding suicide prevention. The district uses the Signs of Suicide program, which equips school counselors with tools to help prevent suicide attempts. It’s also one of the few school districts in Texas with a suicide prevention manual.

About 800 high schools across America are a part of the Hope Squad program, which trains students who are nominated by their classmates to see signs of emotional distress and intervene to help their peers.

“They go through a series of trainings that prepare them to identify mental health and suicide risk. Those Hope Squad students then would shepherd someone who is at risk to a trusted adult,” said Hope Squad lead researcher Jennifer Wright-Berryman. She says the data shows that stigma around mental health and suicide is significantly lower at schools that are a part of the Hope Squad program.

“When it came to direct emergency interventions, I would say within my two years there were about 20 I did personally,” former Hope Squad student Amitoj Kaur told KSAT San Antonio. (RELATED: ‘My Son Is About To Die’: Parents Share Son’s Suicide Attempt, Mental Health Struggles)

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) says that a multi-pronged approach is important for getting student suicides under control as schools reopen. Teachers and staff have to make sure they’re taking care of their own health too, SPRC says. It’s also key to build connections between schools and the surrounding communities, such as with parents.

Communicating these initiatives well is also critical. In Duval County, Florida, officials got into hot water for their #TakeOffTheMask campaign. The slogan was aimed at encouraging students to metaphorically take of the “mask” and be open about their mental and emotional wellbeing, and to seek help if needed.

However, in the era of 2019 and mask mandates, the messaging was confusing to some. “We had people getting upset that students would be allowed to remove masks, and others celebrating it. It’s no wonder I have difficulty teaching the difference between figurative and literal language in my class,” teacher Shannon Russell-Hinds told The Florida Times-Union.