Youth suicide stats prompt call for awareness training
(Calif.) There are over 11,000 suicide attempts by youth in California each year - nearly 30 every day - and about 172 of those results in death. Experts believe these statistics could be lower if school staff were properly trained on how to recognize and deal with suicidal youth.
In a letter sent to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson called these statistics alarming, and encouraged all governing boards to adopt suicide prevention policies. He also noted that the Jason Flatt Act of the state education code encourages professional development in suicide prevention for teachers.
“It really is about training,” said David Kopperud, chair of the Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup and education programs consultant for the California Department of Education. “We believe that if the personnel have the training they need they can be more effective with the students that have mental illness.”
The Mental Health Services Act passed in 2004 is funded by an additional 1 percent tax on individuals whose taxable income is in excess of $1 million, and was designed to expand the county mental health service systems with increased personnel and resources.
Under one component of the act, most counties are required to spend 51 percent of funds on those up to 25 years old. One goal of this section of the law is to help local educational agencies identify student mental health issues early to promote school and student wellness and academic achievement.
“Anecdotal evidence shows that the pressures of society, including the internet and social media, do have a big influence on suicide among youth,” said Monica Nepomuceno, CDE education programs consultant overseeing the MHSA program. “So as we improve in technology we also have to deal with the causalities that come with that.”
Highly publicized cases of youth suicide where technology was used to bully students can be found across the state. Last November in San Diego, 14-year-old Matthew Burdette killed himself after a video of him in a school bathroom allegedly masturbating was shared and viewed by students at several San Diego area high schools.
Burdette’s parents filed a $1 million dollar lawsuit against the San Diego Unified School District earlier this month, stating in their claim that "from the moment the video was posted, Matthew was mercilessly bullied, harassed and teased by students who had seen the video.”
In Saratoga, 15-year-old Audrie Pott killed herself in September 2012 after three male classmates sexually assaulted her after she had passed out at a party, and shared photographs they took of Pott with crude messages scribbled on her half naked body.
One of the boys was sentenced to 45 days in juvenile hall while the other two were sentenced to 30 days each, which they served on weekends. Proposed legislation, known as Audrie’s Law, would make it easier to bring adult charges against juvenile suspects who sexually assault victims who are too intoxicated or mentally impaired to fight back.
Despite the growing concern over technology being used to bully students until they attempt suicide, the student mental health work group is promoting its use in training teachers to spot those suicidal ideations, including through the use of online simulation programs.
“A lot of times you may have the best intentions, but you don’t have the skill or the knowledge to deal with a friend, coworker or student who is contemplating suicide,” Nepomuceno said.
According to Nepomuceno, the department of education has partnered Kognito Online Simulations, which develops simulations for educators and students on how to deal with someone who is suicidal.
“This online simulation helps all school staff learn skills including what to ask and say to someone who is contemplating suicide,” she said, “and right now it’s free through December 31.”
In addition, per a recommendation by the student mental health group that the California Commission on Teaching Credentials incorporates mental health into the teaching and administering credentialing programs, teachers and administrators will soon receive mandatory training.
“The administrator credential has already incorporated it, and we’re waiting on the teaching credential to do so,” Nepomuceno said. “They’re going through the approval process.”