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August 28, 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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