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Supporting Students' Mental Health

Supporting Students' Mental Health

In the Monroe School District, we take the mental health of our 7,000+ students (in grades K-12) very seriously and believe that effective prevention is vital for the health and well-being of our students. While the topic of suicide may be uncomfotable to talk about, it is important that we do because it is the third leading cause of death among youth between 10 and 19 years of age.

However, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and seek help. When all adults and students in the school community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority—and are empowered to take the correct actions—we can help youth before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences. In recent years, Monroe School District has implemented the following prevention programs:

Signs of Suicide Prevention Program. Starting in 2016, the district policy on suicide prevention has included the implementation of the evidenced-based Signs of Suicide Prevention Program (SOSPP). This program is shown to every student in grades 6-12 once per year in their classrooms. The program highlights the warning signs of depression and suicidal activity, and teaches students how to respond when they - or a friend - are struggling with such feelings. The SOSPP enforces the critical importance of connecting the person who is struggling with a trusted adult, which is the second leading protective factor (behind effective mental health counseling) to preventing youth suicide. In support of this program, we have offered community-based trainings at least once each year for interested parents to learn more about how to spot the warning signs of anxiety, depression, suicide, and how to be better equipped to help the youth in their lives.

As part of this program, we send students home with a self-assessment tool to help them share their thoughts and feelings with family members. We encourage all parents to follow up with their child(ren) about their experience with this program.

Sources of Strength. Since 2018 at Monroe High School, we have implemented a student-led group called Sources of Strength. The basis of this group is also evidence-based and nationwide, focusing on the ways in which student 'peer leaders' can use their own strengths and experiences to break the silence of suffering; combat the stigma that surrounds mental illness; and connect their peers with helpful adults. This group is open to all students and we meet weekly. We need every student who is interested in helping others to participate in these important ways.

Currently, the SOS group is only at Monroe High School, but we are interested in bringing it to the middle schools. We just need skilled, adult volunteers to help with the group's weekly meetings and events.

Youth Mental Health First Aid. Since 2017, we have offered free annual training in Youth Mental Health First Aid to adults in our community. This evidence-based program is an 8-hour course that equips adults who work (or spend time) with young people to identify and respond to the signs of various mental health problems. These courses have been very well-attended, and we aim to offer an additional training this year. All are welcome!

In addition to these prevention programs, we have a team of behavioral health specialists in our schools who work with staff, students, families, and the community to address behavior and mental health challenges that can impact student learning and success.

Full time Prevention Specialist and Behavioral Health Specialist who are tasked with (broadly) identifying and addressing risk and response to mental health crises and chemical dependency in students (grades K-12). They also respond to crisis events (small and large), and work to support students and staff who experience traumatic events.

Three full-time Student Support Advocates (one at each level: primary, middle, and high school), who are skilled at addressing the basic human needs of our students, including housing, food, and general safety at home. These SSAs are also trained to respond to mental health crises at school, and to connect students with medical, mental health, and other supports in the community.

A full-time Co-Occurring Disorders Therapist housed at Monroe High School but available district-wide. This person is a licensed mental health therapist who serves students with mental health and chemical dependency needs.

A full-time Student Assistance Professional (contracted through the Educational Service District), who serves students who may be struggling with - or at risk for - substance abuse. This person is located in the Counseling Center at Monroe High School; and his door is always open for any student who may be struggling with mental health or chemical dependency related problems.

A part-time Mental Health Clinician (contracted through SeaMar Behavioral Health) on-site at Monroe High School, who provides long-term counseling services to students who have state-funded insurance.

Additionally, all of our school counselors in the middle and high schools (grades 6-12) have been provided training on the implementation of the evidence-based program: Coping and Support Training (CAST). This is a 12-week small group program that has been shown to teach students how to cope with stress using a cognitive-behavioral approach. Each of our counselors are expected to host at least one small group each year and invite students (up to 12 per group) who may be at risk for mental health crisis - or who may benefit from improved coping skills.

Note: the only current exception is Hidden River's counselor, who is new to the district this year. The Student Support Advocate who serves HRMS, however, has been trained and has implemented a number of CAST groups in recent years. If you know students who may benefit from this training, please contact their school counselor for more information.

The efficacy of our efforts can be found in MSD's most recent Healthy Youth Survey data (2018). Our students are reporting all-time lows in rates of attempted suicide (from 17% in 2016 to 7% in 2018 among 10th graders at MHS). They are also reporting considerably more positive interactions and relationships with trusted adults throughout the district. All in all, the data demonstrates our students are the most protected they've ever been with record low substance abuse rates and record high number of students they have an adult to turn at school when they need help.

Monroe School District works diligently to bring the most evidence-based and widely accessible programs to our schools. You may be asking yourself what you can do to be a part of the solution? Here is a guideline for families:

Possible suicide warning signs include:

  • Increased sadness, tearfulness, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness
  • Increased anger, outbursts, irritability
  • Decreased connectedness with friends or feelings of rejection by peers
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Change in sleep/disturbance (nightmares, sleeping too much or too little)
  • Change in appetite (eating noticeably more/less)
  • Thoughts, writings, or statements about death or dying
  • Increased complaints about body aches, headaches, stomachaches, etc.
  • Sudden and remarkable change in appearance (i.e. dress, hygiene, affect)
  • Past suicide attempt(s)
  • Sudden positive change in affect (if your child seems excessively happy after a long period of sadness, this may be a warning sign)

What to do:

Show your child you care and are concerned:
"I am here for you, and I am concerned about you."
"I care about you and would like to listen if you want to talk."

Ask directly about suicide:
"Are you thinking about suicide?"
"Are you thinking about ending your life?"

Connect with help:
"Thank you for sharing your feelings with me."
"I care about you and now we need to find somebody who knows how to help more than I can."

Available resources:

Call 911 in case of an emergency
Care Crisis Line: (800) 584-3578
School Counselors (families should contact for links to our mental health resources)