FINDING HOPE: Addressing youth suicide prevention at school

Posted at 6:38 AM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 20:14:30-05

BOISE, Idaho — A $3.6 million grant will provide Idaho public schools with more resources to tackle youth suicide in the state.

"The kids are using that language in elementary school, they're aware and understand what suicide is, they're experiencing it someway in their lives," said school-based therapist supervisor and licensed counselor Amanda Gleim.

Idaho, unfortunately, ranks fifth in the nation for the highest suicide rates, but the State Department of Education is using the grant to address the issue head-on at school.

"If we save one life in the state of Idaho to me that is worth it, but we need to do more," said superintendent of public instruction Sherri Ybarra.

More and more schools across the state are improving and increasing their mental health resources. Several districts have school-based therapists working with kids at every age.

"I think at some level, you're going to have developmentally appropriate interventions for as young as kindergarten using the language they understand so they know how to reach out when they do," said Gleim.

The therapists can start awareness early, and students learn about how their brain works in a simplified way. For example, kindergartners can learn about their amygdala and call it the "Guard dog," which triggers their flight, fight, or freeze response.

"When he's barking, that scares away your wise owl, that your prefrontal cortex, which is where you do your school stuff," explained Gleim.

The grant is set for five years; in the first year, ten schools will be selected from rural and urban areas in the state. Every year, ten more gets added. Being there are nearly 700 schools in Idaho, and this reaches just 50, it might feel like a drop in the bucket, but the State Department of Education says every resource makes a wave.

"This program actually provides resources to the elementary levels, sends out communication about the suicide hotline and each region who participates gets a case manager, and so we're hoping to connect all those resources to get what kids need so that they can be successful moving forward with their social-emotional needs," said Ybarra.

This grant will also expand on existing programs. Boise School District, where Gleim works, has other trained counselors and guidance lessons over topics like self-harm or suicidal ideation.

West Ada School District works with the Meridian Schools Clinic to provide mental health counseling with a licensed social worker on their elementary campus.

Caldwell School District provides mental health counseling at several schools, including Sacajawea Elementary, Jefferson Middle, and Canyon Spring High School.

Nampa School District has a district-wide suicide screening protocol to identify students expressing symptoms of suicidal ideation or self-harm.

"Hopefully, we'll see a lot of rural schools apply, where we know that they're strapped for resources," said Ybarra.

Most districts also have guidance counselors with mental health training. School-based therapists from Terry Reilly go to 13 schools in the Boise, West Ada, Nampa, Caldwell, Melba, and Marsing school districts, collectively. The State Department of Education is still figuring out how to select the first ten schools for the grant, but schools will be able to apply soon.