At the Grantsburg School Board meeting last Monday, Feb. 14, a topic of discussion was struggling student mental health and new programs that could be implemented to help. Renae Wright (Elementary School Social Worker and Crisis Team Director for the District), Leah Lade (High School Counselor) and Debbie Luedtke (Middle School Counselor) reported on new suicide prevention programs that they studied. They also spoke to the board to discuss student mental health issues.
“We felt it was very important to come back to the subject. I know we’ve had suicide deaths in the district and just recently in the last 12 months we’ve had two suicide deaths in nearby communities,” Wright said.
For this reason, Wright and the counselors thought it was important to develop ideas for how they could better support their students and help them identify students they might be suicidal.
“Suicide is actually the second leading cause of death among young people in Wisconsin…it’s the third leading cause of death among young people in the country — behind car accidents,” Wright said. “13% of young people recently said they were seriously considering suicide, which is quite a large number considering that 13 out of 100 students may be considering suicide at some point. And more than 12% of students said they had made a plan for how they would attempt suicide.
Wright explained that for those who work in mental health, when they create plans, it means they are in more imminent danger of actually acting on those plans.
She also wanted to explain another statistic to the board – teens who die by suicide are more likely to disclose their suicidal intent to friends, not adults, parents or teachers.
“That’s why we really want to include all students in identifying potential risks and normalizing the language for all of us,” she added.
The training and programs that Wright and advisers would like to consider would include training for all staff and students from kindergarten.
“It would be a complete program for the whole district,” she said.
Question Persuade Respond (QPR) is the program they envision for staff. Lade explained that it’s a quick 60-minute online training that staff can take.
“Staff can learn and understand what questions to ask, how to work with that person, and how to refer them for help,” Lade said, adding that the program is good for about two years before it’s refreshed and updated. that the cost for all district members would be approximately $3,300.
Another resource Lade said he enjoyed researching was Hope Squad. She explained that it is a universal program that includes the student body.
“It’s a program that we could buy and it includes a complete training that we could use, from K-12. All students would be trained and given lessons in the same type of language, so that as they move from building to building, they are not learning new concepts, they are building on those concepts,” said said Lade.
She took the concept one step further, explaining that they would create small peer-elected groups that they would do training with, along with administration and student services. They met monthly and created events throughout the school year to help educate their peers about suicide and mental health issues. She said the program would cost the district about $3,000, but they might be able to get a grant for the program next year, they missed the deadline for this year. There would be an annual fee of $180 with the program.
When Lade, Wright and Luedtke finished their presentation, board chairman Dave Dahlberg was the first to raise a concern. “Is it appropriate to talk about suicide prevention for K-2nd, or for those younger grades?”
Wright explained that although the language is the same, the program will be adapted to be age appropriate for each class.
“It’s not meant to scare, it’s not meant to scare anyone,” Lade said. “I love that it starts in kindergarten and progresses because it really builds on what they’ve learned and creates this universal language. And it really builds on that concept of peers, so middle and high school groups can actually go and have Hope Squad weeks where all week we do fundraising and mental health awareness , and then we can get our older kids down to the younger groups and help out with these fundraisers, read the books and stuff and create this community around this.
Wright added, “What surprises me, because I’m fairly new to this job and have always worked with adults, I sometimes hear students say they would like to kill themselves, and we’re talking about third year and younger – it’s shocking to me that they even have that language to be able to say that let alone identify that whatever is going on has such an impact on them that they would use that kind of language. So I think it’s important that we talk about it, that we don’t stigmatize it more than it already is.
Board member Russ Erickson asked the counselors if they had seen a lot of students who were thinking about suicide.
“At the high school level, I’ve had a 40% increase in generic mental health issues over the last two years this year alone, and it’s not uncommon, it’s not every week, but I might have one to three students a week saying “I’ve been thinking about hurting myself or killing myself, I don’t want to live, or yes, I’m actively suicidal” – so anywhere on that scale” , replied Lade.
Programs presented by Lade, Wright and Luedtke were on the agenda to bring to the council’s attention. However, they said they would like the programs to be considered as an action item at the next board meeting, and all board members present agreed that this was an important topic and that it should be presented at the next meeting.
Wright said they would like to implement the programs next fall, if introduced.