East started off this school year with a number of students on suicide watch that was somewhere in the teens, according to Krawitz.
“I think that number has shrunken considerably,” Krawitz said.
When students are on suicide watch, the administration intervenes and tries to get at the situation early on so that they can provide the services needed. They offer up names of therapists and teen counselors that work in the community. Krawitz and other administrators in the building want to be able to offer these supportive outside services to parents and students.
“Especially in the last year or two, we have been having a lot more training being given to our staff about all of the signs of suicide,” Krawitz said. “This has been extremely helpful to our staff.”
Over the past two years, the Shawnee Mission School District has began giving their staff “Gate Keeper Training.” Gate Keeper training has been around for the past 10 years but is new to our district. This training program trains the staff at the beginning of the year on identifying warning signs of suicide like depression and other stress factors. It also teaches the staff how to address the problem by telling them who to talk to and what kind of discussion to have with a student.
According to Becky Wiseman, one of East’s counselors, a big part of the process is teaching the staff how to follow up with the kids by finding resources in the school and in the community. This is important because in some cases these students will go to a staff member when they want to open up.
“We do this training so that the staff will know all the warning signs and risk factors and what to do if they are concerned about a student,” Wiseman said.
Jane Smith*, who has been through suicide watch, has confided in the school nurse during her struggle. She is the one that Smith has opened up to the most since she is in her office a lot to take her various medications.
“I don’t want people to know, and I really didn’t feel comfortable telling a lot of people,” Smith said. “I felt really comfortable talking to the nurse, though.”
From Wiseman’s perspective, if administrators, parents, students or teachers are concerned about someone they will go to her and say things like “I’m really worried about my friend” or “I’m really concerned about this student, can you check in with them?” Wiseman’s role is to have this student in and speak with them.
“I have a checklist that I go through of questions to asses their risk factor,” Wiseman said. “If a student is at risk, it’s my role to contact parents and offer community resources; sometimes that means immediate mental health screening, sometimes that is just a list of counselors or support groups that the student and their family can seek help from.”
In addition to the checklist that Wiseman goes through with these students, East has a service called the Student Intervention Team (SIT). SIT is a team of professionals who review cases that are brought to them and they then try to make an action plan for these students with the information they are given.
According to Wiseman, each student that meets with her has their own unique story. In Smith’s case, she recently attempted suicide—she has been suffering depression because she has been bullied since elementary school. Smith recently returned to school after seeking an outside therapy and rehabilitation treatment.
“I was just at the point where I felt like I was hopeless and I was hurting a lot,” Smith said.
When students go to Wiseman to get help, one of the main pieces of advice she gives these students is to look to their support systems. Whether that is looking to their friends, their family members or even their teachers, they have to be able to know that there are a lot of things out in the community that can be helpful to them.
“I have to go to therapy once a week and I’m on really heavy anti-depressants,” Smith said.
The only reason Smith feels she is able to keep her spirits up while she’s at school is because she doesn’t want her peers or her friends to see her as “weak.” She feels she will be ill-perceived if she is constantly down and emotional.
“I just act like nothing’s wrong and I just tell myself that,” Smith said.
In most cases, when a student is feeling unsafe in their environment and is worried about the actions they might make, either the student or their parents will go to Wiseman.
Once Wiseman has worked with a student and she has determined that some resources, like outside therapy or a mental health screening needs to be put in place, she will do a follow up with the student to see how things are going for them.
“A lot of times that communication will continue but that truly is up to the student,” Wiseman said. “If the student has gotten therapy or counseling set up and they do not want to do it here at school then I will definitely respect that.”
After realizing all of the help that the suicide watch program has brought to East, Krawitz believes it is something that should be heard about and spread throughout other schools in the district as well as the country.
“I think from this point on not only in this school, but in schools across the country, it’s going to become something that will be a yearly discussion and training will be given,” Krawitz said. “It has become very much a reality.”
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