Challenged by high youth suicide rates and an ongoing need to support youth behavioral health, Nampa School District has taken these five steps to identifying and addressing the problem on a daily basis

Here in Idaho, you might say that the odds are against us on the behavioral health front. After all, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans aged 15- to 34-years-old. According to the Department of Health and Welfare, there were a total of 393 suicides in Idaho in 2017 for all ages.

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These tragic events touch many educational institutions–and their students and families–every year in a state where the suicide rate is 58 percent higher than the national average.

Not willing to stand by and let our students become statistics, our district has taken some very deliberate measures to help support youth behavioral health and support positive outcomes. We’ve been working on these initiatives for years in a region of the world where certain school districts have experienced multiple suicides within a year’s time. We’ve experienced such losses ourselves, most recently when a school resource officer and a teacher both died by suicide about two years ago.

Here are five ways we’re effectively identifying and addressing the issue while ensuring a positive educational experience for our students:

1. Put a student safety platform in place. Using Gaggle, we can quickly identify students who may be in trouble and then intervene appropriately. In place for about two years, the platform helps us identify students who might be in trouble and in need of help by monitoring their online activity. Gaggle uses a robust combination of technology and trained safety experts to provide real-time analysis and review of students’ use of school-issued online collaboration platforms such as Google’s G Suite for Education and Microsoft Office 365. It also alerts us 24/7/365 to issues related to school violence. Our counselors and administrators are all trained on what to look for and have intercepted several communications and secured help for the students who were involved. One of our main uses of the platform involves listening to a lot of the digital chatter that prompts us to intervene and stop suicides.

2. Get everyone involved. Student safety requires a multifaceted effort, so our community partners in healthcare also have a number of child psychiatrists on board and a partial hospitalization program. In concert with our community partners, we do a lot of work around youth behavioral health, and suicide prevention is one area of concern. It’s been a real group effort that’s focused on coming together to try to figure out what to do from a multi-sector, multifaceted approach. For example, we have a youth behavioral health trauma crisis team that’s led by our public health department. About 80 volunteers and mental health professionals came together and received training. These individuals handle surge capacity within our district if there’s another incident or there’s some sort of crisis that requires youth behavioral health professionals.

3. Tap into grants and other resources. The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to addressing the root causes of Idaho’s most pressing health issues. The organization had a multi-year grant with the city of Nampa and is now working on a multi-year grant with our district. The purpose of the grant is to build partnerships with schools and community entities to address trauma and support student wellbeing. Part of the work done so far involves understanding access, resources, challenges, and opportunities that exist from the perspective of the school district to influence youth behavioral health. The district will use grant funding to pilot programs and projects in various schools focused on school culture and adult-student relationships.

4. Partner with private entities. Our district has also invested heavily in the Healthy Minds Partnership, whereby a behavioral health provider (i.e., private entities) partners with a school to provide clinical counseling services onsite. In this arrangement, the district doesn’t have to pay for the services, because they are reimbursable by Medicaid and/or private payers. This type of partnership is an excellent example of how a district can reach out and partner with business entities in their communities. This creates a win-win-win for the school, the district, and the business.

5. Leverage the strength of your community. Nampa is a growing community, but it still has some pretty old-fashioned values. It’s a community where high school sports are still a big deal, and where a lot of graduates stay here in the community. We leverage these connections and remind people that it’s not just the Nampa School District and the city of Nampa; we’re all one. What happens in our schools is really an issue for the whole community.

Ultimately, what we’d like to see is everyone coming together to recognize that youth suicide is our problem as a community, and then working to find ways to join together and solve it. It has to go beyond the schools and become a community effort to reach out and make some real changes.

About the Author:

Kathleen Tuck is Director of Communications and Community Relations at the Nampa School District in Idaho.


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