Delaware teen suicides motivate immediate action
Suicide. It may be a tough topic for some to discuss but not for one group of high school students who are doing their part to raise awareness.
At Polytech High School in Woodside the topic is personal. The school is just one of many schools where suicides took place among teens in Kent and Sussex Counties.
"I feel like things like this shouldn't be taken lightly and that there are things that we can do to prevent suicide," said Erica White, a Polytech H.S. nursing student.
That's why Erica is one of 6 Polytech High School students working on a Public Service Announcement for a national competition to promote youth Suicide Prevention. The project comes on the one year anniversary of a suicide cluster, where 4 teens took their own lives.
"The number of suicide attempts and completed suicides in Kent and Sussex Counties is very, very alarming," stated Superintendent Dr. Deborah Zych.
"Suicide is the third leading cause of death for children, young adults between age 15 and 24. It is a major issue for young people, and it's a feeling of being alone," added Matt Stehl from the Nat. Alliance Mental Illness, a health organization that helps support, educate and advocate for Delaware families.
Stehl is praising Gov. Jack Markell's call to increase the number of state health counselors to help students contemplating suicide. To get the job done, Markell appointed Lt. Gov. Matt Denn to lead efforts.
"There are some very specific steps we started taking last year that were specific to the suicide issue. A lot of that involves bringing in some training for our front line personnel in our high schools and in our middle schools so that they can more quickly recognize signs and students, being able to help students, know how to better deal with the depression symptoms and other things that can lead to suicide," said Lt. Gov. Matt Denn.
According to Lt. Gov. Denn, there are only three middle schools in the entire state that have people with mental health training in the schools. Denn says the goal is to go from 3 schools to 30 starting on July 1, 2014 in terms of having behavioral health consultants in the schools. Markell asked for the increase staffing in his budget message.
"These are people who can be in the school, help teachers, diagnose kids, deal with kids and also make sure that those kids who have to get treated on the outside stick with their treatment plans," Denn said.
The Lt. Gov. also added that health professionals will benefit from plans too. "One other thing that we are doing is in our Medicaid and C.H.I.P program we are going to start reimbursing pediatricians for consulting with psychiatrists when a child comes to a pediatrician," added Denn.
Right now if there is a mental health issue the only option is to refer a child to a psychiatrist, even if the child goes to a pediatrician first. That means the child could possibly wait weeks before being seen by an expert. However, new plans will create a system that encourages a better relationship between pediatricians and psychiatrists so children could get help within a week.
Meanwhile the Polytech School District isn't waiting for state officials to follow through with such a plan. In fact, a suicide prevention program is already in place there.
"During the first semester of the school year, we rolled out the life-line curriculum to all 9th and 10th grade students. The life-line curriculum consists of 4 training modules, which include role playing, video clips of real teenagers who are dealing with issues of depression, and problem solving," said Dr. Zych. Nursing students at Polytech were hit hard by the suicides. They decided they wanted to make a Public Service Announcement warning of the danger signs to recognize teen suicides. The girls entered the Health Occupation Students of America competition. It's a simple message that you can view in this story.
Mental health advocate Stehl says, early detection is crucial to helping to prevent youth suicides.
"The earlier you reach out the earlier you get medicated the chances are you are going to lead a productive life," added Stehl.