Skip to content

Dubuque School District Creates Suicide Prevention Coalition to Address Students’ Brain Health Needs

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) – The Dubuque Community School District has formed a suicide prevention coalition to review the district’s current policies regarding students with depression and suicidal thoughts. District officials say they are doing so after hearing from school counselors about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student mental health.

The Suicide Prevention Coalition is made up of 15 members, including district staff, principals, school resource officers and mental health professionals. Shirley Horstman, executive director of student services for the district, said it’s been about a decade since the district last reviewed these policies.

“It’s pretty important that we look at some of these past practices and make sure everything is aligned with research,” she said.

Horstman explained that recent studies have shown that there is a critical need to address brain health issues in college students, especially teenagers. She pointed to studies that found suicide to be the second leading cause of death among teenagers aged 15 to 19. She also mentioned that recent studies show that 20% of teenagers suffer from some sort of brain health issue.

“Wherever the national stats are, we generally follow Dubuque,” ​​she added.

The coalition will examine how the district can better approach prevention and intervention when it comes to students struggling with suicidal thoughts and whether current policies need to be improved.

“If a student said, ‘Life isn’t worth living,’ or if they wrote a really dark, really hopeless essay, there would always be interventions happening,” Horstman said. “The teacher would refer them to a school counselor, the school counselor would talk to the student, contact the parents, and then all the necessary additional steps would happen. All of these things are looked at to say, “Do we have enough protocol in place? »

Horstman said they will also look at an appropriate suicide prevention program for students and the training needed for staff. The final part of the study is to find ways to better engage with the community.

She said the district has learned new research it needs to focus on something called “postvention,” or what happens after a student dies by suicide.

“How can we reach friends who are grieving? How can we reach out to other students who might be at risk and really try to support them so we don’t have more suicides? “, she commented.

Blair Birkett works as a mental health therapist at the new Covenant Family Solutions clinic in Dubuque. She told TV9 that she worked in Des Moines schools during the pandemic and saw firsthand the impact it had on students’ brain health.

“We noticed a lot of apprehension for kids coming back to school, a lot of social anxiety, a lot of performance anxiety,” she pointed out. “Adults generally have a lot more resources to rely on. Children not so much, especially when it comes to mental health needs.

She stressed the importance of school districts taking the time to review their brain health protocols to ensure they are serving their students appropriately.

“There’s been more recognition for mental health, so in some ways post-pandemic that’s been a plus,” she said. “A lot of the issues that existed before the pandemic increased a lot after the pandemic.”

The District Suicide Prevention Coalition will hold three meetings this year. Horstman said the goal is to have a textbook ready by the end of this school year to present to the school board.

Copyright 2022 KCRG. All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy Designed using Magazine Hoot. Powered by WordPress.