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July 4, 2015

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Suicide in school: District’s prevention effort leads to student hospitalizations

Four identified through program of being at risk as CCSD strives to combat a rising statistic

Four Clark County School District students were placed on suicide watch at area hospitals last weekend after the students took part in a suicide prevention program and were deemed a high risk, according to district officials.

The news comes just two weeks after a student at East Career and Technical Academy hanged himself on campus after school hours.

In response to the rising teen suicide rate in Nevada, the School District began conducting the nationally recognized "SOS: Signs of Suicide" program at at-risk schools in 2007. Parents are notified before the district administers the program at their child's school and are given an opportunity for their child to opt out of the program.

The district held the program at Henderson-area schools last week, said Rosemary Virtuoso, the district's coordinator of student threat evaluation and crisis response. The four hospitalized students were referred there from the district's suicide prevention program, Virtuoso said.

As part of SOS, schools deemed at risk of having students contemplating suicide had students watch a video and talk with educators about warning signs.

In addition, students were screened; those who expressed thoughts of suicide were evaluated by one of 100 trained nurses, counselors or psychologists visiting the school that day.

Parents of at-risk students were notified, and those deemed at high risk of suicide were sent to a local hospital or clinic for treatment, Virtuoso said. The district also has the option of invoking a Legal 2000 hold, whereby a student at risk of self-harm would be monitored for 72 hours at a psychiatric or medical facility. (None of the four students this weekend were held on a Legal 2000).

Since the district launched SOS six years ago, about 26,000 students at 16 schools have seen the video. The district also has trained more than 1,000 employees to identify and prevent suicides.

About 200 students each year have self-reported thoughts of suicide and have been given support, Virtuoso said. That figure has stayed fairly constant the past couple of years, she added.

Springtime is typically when the district sees the most cases, Virtuoso said.

"Kids start worrying about exams and whether they will graduate," she said.

Although Nevada's average child mortality rate has been dropping, there has been an uptick in the number of teen suicides since 2008.

Between 2008 and 2011, Nevada's teen suicide rate nearly tripled — to 14.3 deaths per 100,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19, according to the 2013 Nevada Kids Count study.

In 2011, Nevada had more than double the national suicide rate of 6.9 deaths per 100,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19. In fact, Nevada had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the nation that year.

In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, Clark County had 15 suicides among adolescents ages 15 to 19. There were 26 teen suicides statewide that year.

The School District is cognizant of the trends and monitors the Clark County coroner's reports on child suicide carefully, Virtuoso said.

"Two and a half years ago, we started to see a community problem," she said. "We're targeting schools and students that need help."

Signs of suicide and how to intervene

  • Signs
  • • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
  • • Acting anxious or agitated, behaving recklessly.
  • • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Take action
  • • Contact a mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
  • • Take the individual to an emergency room or mental health walk-in clinic.
  • • Do not leave the person alone until professional help is with him/her.
  • • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Source: Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention

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  1. Mental health care is a subject avoided by most everyone: in the home, in the neighborhood, in the community, in the state, in our nation. Why? People fear it, as the charge of it holds great stigmatization and creates isolation, feeding into the problem.

    So the result is no one talks about it, and all believe there is NO problem. Help for that problem therefore shrinks and disappears because need or demand for help and care seems non-existent. Add to that reality that mental health funding gets cut, over and over, leaving a skeleton, bare bones operation in place to serve only the most severe, in crisis, individuals, with treatment plans that are sketchy at best, due to lack of adequate funding of infrasture.

    In our society, the mental health problem has been brewing and growing into proportions that are spilling out into being very tragic, public events. This is "waking the public up" about mental health access and treatment, but will our Lawmakers translate that into adequately funding our ailing mental health care system?

    We need to improve mental health access and services, especially for our young people, elementary school on, if we hope to reduce the number of tragic events that are on the rise now. Everyone needs to have the dialog, those conversations, and training, to set mental health priorities aright. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. I'm glad they're addressing the problem, instead of ignoring it. Not sure who I feel about the current method, but things change and evolve over time.

    A+ for effort. If it this helps one child it was worth it.

  3. Are all public school students entitled to high quality mental health services?

    BTW: Who is paying for these students' hospitalization?

  4. Must be the age we are living in. I remember when Japan's teens had the highest number of suicides because of pressure to perform.