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Schools on the front lines of suicide prevention

SALT LAKE CITY — September is suicide prevention month and as part of our coverage of this public health crisis, we are looking at the different ways schools are helping watch out for our youth.

Teachers, counselors and staff are on the front lines in these efforts.

“The best tool educators are armed with, is their relationship with their students,” said Ben Belnap, the associate superintendent for student wellness for the Park City School District. He says everyone remembers the teacher who really knows them and took the time to connect with them.

Hopefully, that teacher is the one you could talk to for help.

“We don’t create this relationship by how we respond when a student tells us something they are distressed about or when they are showing warning signs. That relationship is created well in advance of that by the way we interact with them and seek them out to talk about things related and not related to education,” said Belnap.

He says they use student Hope Squads, and QPR – question, persuade and refer, when checking in on how students are doing with any long-term depression or anxiety or short term crisis that could lead to suicide ideation.

In the Murray City School District, prevention specialist Carol Anderson says they know fellow students are key.

“Educating students about the signs of mental health distress in their peers, because we know there is that age when students relay on their peers instead of adults,” she said. “That includes making sure those peers understand signs of depression and letting them know it’s ok to reach out and ask a friend if they are at risk of hurting themselves, or that student themselves an go to a caring adult.”

Anderson said MCSD has many community partners they work with for training and advocacy. They urge parents in any district to go to seminars at school about suicide and mental health.

“It is a public health problem, and we need to look at it as a whole community. Yes educators and our schools can play a role, our community partners can play a role, but what can EVERYBODY do?” she said.

Belnap says restorative practices in PCSD are going a long way beyond just preventative measures. And Anderson says schools also focus on coping skills, mindfulness and problem-solving skills. These are things teens can take with them into adulthood.

 

Advocates urge anyone who is struggling or anyone with a loved one who may be at risk of suicide to use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time, by calling 1-800-273-Talk.

 

Read more of KSL Newsradio’s coverage of “Healing Utah’s Teenagers” here.

KSL’s combined coverage “Reasons to Hope” is found here.

And resources for help around Utah are here.