Districts expand suicide prevention efforts

Districts expand suicide prevention efforts

(Ariz.) Students began the new school year with mental health resources more readily available to them under a multi-district effort to reduce the high rates of teen suicide in Arizona.

Two years ago, schools in Tempe and Phoenix began printing the contact info for an Arizona-based youth crisis hotline on student ID badges. Now, four districts enrolling nearly 85,000 students and a handful of charter schools will include that information on all student IDs.

Preliminary findings from a Vanderbilt University study released in 2017 show that the percent of youth ages 5 to 17 hospitalized across the U.S. for self-harm or suicidal thoughts or actions doubled between 2008 and 2015. Those early findings were published shortly after a 2016 report from the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found the suicide rate for children age 10 to 14 doubled nationally from 2007 to 2014–overtaking motor vehicle accidents as the second leading cause of death in that age group.

Throughout the country, policymakers are working to reduce the rates of suicide among school-aged kids by improving professional development to help educators spot warning signs and notify the proper people. Many are also targeting subgroups facing higher rates of depression or bullying that lead to higher rates of suicidal thoughts or actions, including Native American youth and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

In the past two years, states including Colorado, Delaware and California have introduced legislation addressing funding for school counselors and social-emotional supports, and professional development. Prior to 2015, Delaware had been one of only a few states that didn't have any kind of suicide-prevention training for school staff.

In Arizona, suicide is the second leading cause of death among kids ages 15 to 24, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Since 2009, there has been an 81 percent increase in suicides among children throughout the state, but recent data shows much of the increase has occurred in just the last few years. According to the Arizona Child Fatality Review, suicides by children when up by 26 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone. In that year, 47 children ended their own lives.

The decision to include contact information for the Teen Lifeline on student ID badges was made after a student enrolled in the Tempe Union High School District shot himself on campus in 2015. Now, Tempe Union, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Tolleson Union High School District, Phoenix Union High School District and a handful of charter schools all include information linking students to suicide prevention resources.

The Teen Lifeline, which trains teens to become volunteer peer counselors, received more than 19,000 calls and texts last year. Volunteers field more than 6,000 calls per year, and each call is supervised by a Master’s level behavioral health clinician. According to the organization’s 2016 year-end report, one of every three calls was from a teen considering suicide.

Contact information for the lifeline, which has resources for teens contemplating suicide, as well as students struggling with gender and sexuality crises, the death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, is now printed on the back of student IDs that children are already required to wear on school grounds.

In 2015, after more districts called for the hotline contact information to be more readily available to students, the Teen Lifeline received almost 16,000 calls from children across the state–a more than 14 percent increase from 2014.

Throughout the districts, schools have also stepped up professional development for educators across all grade levels to help learn how to identify unusual behavior, initiate conversations and refer students to a counselor.

Teen Lifeline has a confidential hotline where teens can be connected to a trained teen “peer counselor by calling 602-248-8336 (TEEN) or (800)-248-8336 (TEEN).

For those currently in need of help or if you know someone in need, resources are also available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8255]).