School requires mental health lessons after student suicides

School requires mental health lessons after student suicides

(Mich.) Freshmen at Detroit’s West Bloomfield High School now receive mandatory mental health training that emphasizes coping skills, empathy and how to spot the warning signs of potential threats of violence in school.

The five-week program covers topics including stress, anger, anxiety, grief, social media, relationships, family systems and self-reflection, with teachers directing students through conversations about mental health.

School officials said it was clear their students needed the extra help, as the campus has dealt with four student suicides in the last four years.

“We realized that, if students have a little setback, they don't have the coping skills to deal with it,” the school’s principal, Pat Watson, told local television reporters. “We pour all kinds of money into all these different programs and mental health isn’t one we’ve really looked at–this can have a very positive influence on our children’s lives.”

State and district policymakers have increasingly begun implementing or expanding current mental health programs in schools, targeting issues such as coping with stress or anxiety, bullying and suicide prevention.

In New York, for instance, mental health education must now be taught in the health curriculum across all grades as of this year. Other states, including Washington and Wisconsin, require students receive lessons in suicide prevention.

Schools throughout the U.S. have also made efforts to expand professional development to include mental health awareness and training that helps teachers identify troubled students.

Nationally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And mental disorders among children have emerged in recent years as a major public health issue that impacts as much of 20 percent of the K-12 population each year—or about 10 million children.

CDC data show suicide rates among children aged 10 to 17 jumped almost 70 percent nationally between 2006 and 2016–with almost 940 deaths by suicide in 2006 compared to more than 1,500 in 2016.

Detroit saw a similar spike among that age group during those same years, with 35 student deaths by suicide in 2006 to 57 in 2016.

In Michigan, local school districts must provide lessons in student health, but have the discretion to determine what should be included in those classes.

The program now required at West Bloomfield High School was developed by Ryan Beale, the founder and CEO of Therapy Live and a 1997 graduate of the school, after he lost his older brother to suicide.

"Part of my journey was based on wanting to do more to educate the public that there's so much more you can do, especially at this level, at this critical intervention point between 13 and 15, where research shows there's a high increase in mortality due to behavioral health issues in this age group," Beale said. "And they go into lifelong issues–almost 80 percent of them will never seek care." 

Beale said the curriculum, Prepare U, will help freshmen build resilience and develop social-emotional, coping, and better decision-making skills.

In addition to the new health curriculum requirement, the school has been expanding student health and wellness programming by offering small counseling groups that meet a few times a month, yoga classes and art therapy. The school also schedules visits from therapy dogs for students to spend time with.

For more resources or direct help contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8255]).

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