Suicide prevention in Idaho schools

One program, Sources of Strength is already being used in 81 secondary schools in Idaho. Those sources of strength start with trained student leaders and their ideas. (Photo Courtesy Sources of Strength)

One suicide can send shock waves throughout an entire community. When a student dies from suicide that impact is felt in each school hallway and classroom.

According to Kim Kane, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Suicide Prevention Program youth have lower rates of death by suicide than other age groups in the state and in the country. That doesn't mean it isn't a serious problem.

The Idaho Education Department is getting hands on working in each classroom to bring forward positive change.

"When we look at school age children. Idaho in the last five years has lost about 22 children a year to suicide," Kane said.

Matt McCarter, the Department of Education's Student Engagement director a recent study found that 25% of Idaho children surveyed report they've been bullied in the last year. That number has remained the same for the past few years.

In that same study 20% of students surveyed said they have been so sad, lonely, or depressed that they've thought about suicide.

"That's a troubling statistic that has gone up throughout the last few years. It's the highest we've ever seen it," McCarter said.

Education leaders are working to get ahead of the problem.

"Suicide prevention advocates and programs have worked with the state Department of Education for a very long time bringing ongoing wellness programs into schools because that's what we need to do we need to move upstream," Kane said.

The goal of upstream prevention is to build resilience, increase connection, change unhealthy norms around help-seeking, break down codes of secrecy and silence, and teach healthy coping strategies.

"Give young people the skills to be able to cope with hardship as it emerges because again hardship impacts us all and our success in life is in part dictated by how we navigate the hard times," McCarter said.

One program, Sources of Strength is already being used in 81 secondary schools in Idaho. Those sources of strength start with trained student leaders and their ideas.

"Things like compliment day. There will be post is notes and the idea is write at least five throughout the day recognizing someone that you appreciate for whatever reason," Mccarter said. "Could be the janitor a teacher a classmate whomever at the end of the day the school is covered with post it notes with positivity."

An even bigger step is the KISS initiative, Keep Idaho Students Safe. It's meant to help so called gatekeepers, those with close frequent contact with students, to tackle an array of issues including suicide.

"I have subject matter experts, law enforcement, advocates, counselors and we're designing a course that really focuses on the root causes of risk behaviors and dangers facing students," McCarter said.

The initiative also includes an $18.5 million school safety grant. Every school district will get a portion of that money to focus on their most acute safety and security need.

"In addition the KISS initiative involves a school safety tip line," McCarter said. "If someone is concerned, they see something, they're not sure they saw a post on Instagram. They saw a list they saw anything that gives them concern they can immediately report it to the proper authorities."

On the school level educators are encouraged to be more involved and not just in the classrooms.

"Be a force of positivity in a kid's life whether you know them or not, a simple hi on the bus, that's it," McCarter said. "A critical mass of adults doing that can change the game."

To help prevent a tragedy the hard work inside the walls of each school must be matched at home.

"It's really important for parents to number one talk to their children you know non judgmentally which is challenging sometimes and maybe even more importantly to know who their children's friends are," Kane said. "Build rapport with their children's friends because odds are the friends are going to be the first one's to either notice a warning sign or know that someone is going through a difficult emotional crisis."

Experts say you should never be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal.

"People have typically been trying to say something so if you're the one brave enough to ask them if they're thinking of suicide people are usually met with relief," Kane said.

It's important to remind those who need help that's it's always available.

"The impact of even one suicide has on families and schools and communities it doesn't make it feel rare I understand. But it is statistically rare and that's important because those who become suicidal recover," Kane said. "Over 90% of those who even make an attempt never go on to die by suicide so it's important that we know that people get better. Because most people do"

If you think you, a friend, or a loved one may be suicidal there are plenty of resources available. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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