Summit County schools draw attention to mental health resources
Safe2Tell anonymous 24/7 tip line for students: 1-877-542-SAFE (1-877-542-7233)
Mind Springs Health crisis hotline: 1-888-207-4004
Crisis Text Line: Text CTL to 741-741
What: Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention is the topic for this month’s Dialogue Over Dinner hosted by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center. The dialogues connect experts and parents to discuss issues affecting children and teens, and the free events include dinner and childcare.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Summit Middle School
Contact Natalia at email@example.com or call (970) 455-0228 to sign up.
What: Mental Health First Aid certification course provided by Mind Springs Health. Mental Health First Aid is a prevention program that reduces stigma, enhances behavioral health literacy and improves behavioral health.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 12, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Summit Community and Senior Center, 83 Nancy’s Place, Frisco, CO 80443
How much: Free. To register, visit http://bit.ly/1s5UqHY or call (970) 668-3478.
Suicide can be hard to talk about, whether it’s between parent and child, friend and friend or teacher and student.
The Summit School District wants its students, families and staff to feel empowered to reach out if they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts and to speak up if they’re worried about someone else.
On Monday, Nov. 3, the staff of Summit Middle School will receive the district’s first suicide-prevention training. Summit’s high school staff will follow with training on Nov. 17.
“It’s kind of like CPR training,” said Cassie Comeau, a psychologist who works in three Summit schools through the school-based health centers. “You have it in your back pocket, and you don’t need it until you need it.”
The Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) training, like CPR, can mean the difference between life and death when someone responds to warning signs early.
The staff trainings are part of the district’s recent efforts to increase awareness about suicide prevention.
After a high school student died by suicide in December, Julie McCluskie, the district’s communications director, partnered with Sarah Vaine, CEO of Summit Community Care Clinic, Robin Albert, manager of Summit County Youth and Family Services, and Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center.
They invited community partners to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the local mental health support system and what could be done to improve it.
The group met six times between March and September, with 15 to 20 participants at each meeting who represented the sheriff’s office, the probation office, the coroner’s office, Summit County Social Services, Early Childhood Options, the county public health department and private therapists and health care providers.
The group’s awareness campaign wasn’t spurred by local trends, Comeau said, but rather by a growing national concern about mental health issues. Suicide is regularly placed in the top three causes of death among people ages 10 to 24.
“We’re not immune to suicide at all,” she said. “All we can do is try to make sure we have the best community services that we can.”
She said though the campaign was pushed by the school district in October, improving the local mental health care support system will be an ongoing collaborative effort among service providers in the community.
“This is an issue that we know takes a village,” she said, especially when those trained to treat mental health issues are often the last ones people see.
Psychologist Rebecca McNaughton responds to crises at Summit’s middle school and high school, and her job involves talking to children and teens who have had suicidal thoughts.
“It makes kids feel so alone to have these thoughts because we don’t talk about it as much as we probably should,” she said.
When students say they’ve thought about harming themselves, she talks with them to learn more about them and their relationships with family, friends and others. She asks about when the thoughts started and how often they occur. Then, depending on how likely the student is to act on those thoughts, she seeks outside help.
For the most serious situations, she calls authorities, such as Mind Springs Health, who can hold a student for up to 72 hours. For less serious instances, she refers the student to a private out-of-school therapist or to an in-school counselor.
For the third year, Advocates for Victims of Assault has provided a crisis intervention program to students with funding from The Summit Foundation and Vail Resorts.
The program refers 25 students a year, from pre-K to high school seniors, to free sessions with 12 participating private therapists. School counselors identify the students, not necessarily because they’ve had suicidal thoughts; they might have risk factors like substance abuse in the family or a family history of mental illness.
The program removes the cost barrier that prevents many families from seeking mental health care, said Amy Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Victims of Assault. Plus the students are able to receive immediate care at times when school counselors aren’t available right away.
Jackson said she’s been surprised by the number of referrals coming from elementary schools. Of 23 students referred last year, eight were grade-schoolers.
Inside the schools, students have access to counselors through the school-based health centers, run by Summit Community Care Clinic.
The centers have seen a need for more mental health care in schools. Last year, they provided close to 1,400 one-on-one sessions. This year, the centers added a mental health care provider to the elementary schools, which before had been visited sporadically, and increased the behavioral health services provided to 120 hours a week split among the district’s schools.
Before the end of the semester, McCluskie said the high school will offer a mental health training for students similar to the one given to staff.
Though officials say it’s too soon to note any changes in student actions due to the increased efforts, they expect more students to reach out and access resources.
CALLS AND STATS
On Thursday, Oct. 30, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office announced the launch of new tools for schools to educate kids and teens about the Safe2Tell hotline, a phone number anyone can call anonymously at any time about harmful behaviors or dangerous situations and receive help.
Last year, school and law enforcement officials across the state responded to 3,178 Safe2Tell reports. Most of the calls were about suicide interventions, followed by bullying and substance abuse.
From the law enforcement side, Sheriff John Minor said his officers respond to suicide-related calls only in life-threatening situations. Most of the time, he said, local mental health issues are successfully handled by psychologists.
In recent years though, Minor said, he has noticed an increase in suicide-related calls. He wasn’t sure why.
From Jan 1. to Oct. 21, his office received 66 suicide-related calls. While a couple of them were about actual suicides and some were attempted suicides, he said, the vast majority of the calls were from friends of intoxicated people threatening suicide.
Over the last couple decades, Minor said, he has seen an uptick in suicide-related calls during mud season when more county residents are unemployed. He also said calls seem to become more frequent between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s holidays.
At the jail, Minor said, about one-fourth of the county inmates at any given time have some kind of mental health issue.
Those issues seem to become more problematic in the winter, possibly because of less daylight, McNaughton said.
Substance abuse and suicide often go together, Comeau said, and girls and women are more likely to attempt suicide, while boys and men are more likely to die by suicide. Comeau added that suicide is more common among affluent populations.
HOW TO HELP
So what’s the best way to intervene?
“It’s an easy topic to tiptoe around,” Comeau said.
Some think if they mention suicide, the situation will worsen and the person will be more likely to act on suicidal thoughts. Comeau said studies show that’s not true at all, and those who are concerned should just ask.
“You want to ask early,” she said. “People will answer pretty openly and pretty candidly.”
Experts say most people who are struggling will later say they are grateful for interventions and support that helped them through tough times.
Sometimes parents worry that high-profile suicides, like the recent death of Robin Williams, will spur suicidal thoughts and actions in their kids, McNaughton said. That doesn’t happen, though those events tend to make people more willing to have conversations about suicide, and parents can use similar events as springboards to talk with their children.
No matter the relationship, McNaughton said, even if the at-risk person is a stranger, people shouldn’t be afraid to speak up.
“If you feel something in your gut is wrong, there’s probably something wrong,” she said. “If you hear something, say something.”
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