BY MELINDA SKUTNICK
Iredell-Statesville Schools and the Mooresville Graded School District have been stressing the importance of early intervention, social emotional learning and preventative tactics throughout Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — and every month.
“We’ve been keenly aware of the uptick nationally in adolescent depression and adolescents completing suicide. We have lots of different prevention and intervention happening across the district,” said Kelly Marcy, executive director of student services at Iredell-Statesville Schools.
All I-SS staff members, including administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers and bus drivers, have been trained to recognize the signs of depression among students. The district has implemented measures from crisis to intervention, including working with student assistance program coordinators to aid any child of any age exhibiting signs of hopelessness, self-harm or violence toward others.
I-SS also contracts with Children’s Hope Alliance to provide schoolwide therapy at all district schools. Trained therapists are available to help families during crisis moments, and tele-therapy is offered to virtual students.
The district strives to keep this issue at the forefront, including during the current Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Marcy said. The district has worked to keep social media pages up to date with information and counseling staff consistently “reach out to kids and try to engage kids.”
An app is available to students, parents, staff and community members for anonymous reports, Marcy noted. The Say Something App determines if help is needed and then contacts local emergency services. It also identifies follow-up opportunities for ISS staff.
Marcy noted that the anonymity has allowed for increased reporting within the district.
“Kids were concerned about being a tattletale so they didn’t tell even if kids were a risk,” she said.
Commenting on the current virtual environment for many ISS students, she added: “We don’t forget the social and emotional aspect of kids just because they are virtual … We are really, really fortunate to have a full array of services for our students. We hope that more families and students will take advantage of what we have to offer.”
In the Mooresville Graded School District, ample services are offered for its large student population. ,
“Every school counselor, principal and student support staff (school psychologists, social workers, school nurses, district behavior team and our School Based Mental Health therapists) are trained in the early warning signs, student interview process, and district procedures for supporting students and families in need — to include offering our families resources, local mental health providers, list of crisis centers, crisis plans, threat assessments, suicide prevention plans with actions steps, follow up protocols, home visits, and providing assistance for families to access services,” explained Tanae Sump-McLean, the district’s chief communications officer.
MGSD boasts a comprehensive school mental health system team as well as a core social emotional learning program for all grade levels that was implemented this school year to ensure dedicated time was allocated to social and emotional needs of virtual students.
The district also has an “Early Warning Signs Flowchart” to better assist teachers as they provide virtual support. MGSD’s suicide prevention plan is currently being redeveloped, said Sump-McLean, to make a “strong” plan even stronger with “updated research in our decisions and procedures.”
Sump-McLean said that the virtual education environment throughout MGSD schools has made it difficult to recognize Suicide Prevention Awareness Month on a large scale. However, all concerns or potential situations continue to be addressed directly, case by case.
Added MGSD’s EC Behavior, Program and Autism Specialist Tracy Bissonnette: “Student safety is always a concern whether we are in a remote learning environment or face to face, but we understand the additional stress the pandemic has placed on our students, families and staff.”
“We believe that it is vital for kids to feel supported through a safe, stable and supportive relationship with a caring adult,” continued Bissonnette, “Therefore, we have prioritized our social-emotional learning practices. Training staff in awareness and warning signs ensures students are provided the help and resources necessary to promote the mental health and wellbeing of all of our students.”
Editor’s Note: The annual Central Piedmont Out of the Darkness Walk, hosted in recent years by ISS, will be offered virtually this November. The mission has remained unchanged: “Save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.” The donation goal is $60,000. Learn more and register at https://afsp.donordrive.com.