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Schools focus on mental health

High rates of depression, suicide attempts

By Erik Buchinger

The Clintonville Public School District enlisted a guest speaker to help find solutions for students who are struggling with mental health.

Mettie Spiess presented to middle and high school students in Clintonville in addition to a session for adults on Tuesday, April 24.

Spiess spoke about losing two brothers to suicide and overcoming her own mental health issues.

The school district’s social worker Suzette Fountain said she hopes Spiess’s message helped members in the audience.

“We had heard really good things about her, and because we have such high suicide attempt rate in our youth risk behavior survey, we had significant concerns with that,” Fountain said. “We just want to break the stigma and silence of mental illness. The more we can normalize things and talk about it, the more likely people are going to get help.”

Fountain said students told her that Spiess’s story was powerful, and she really connected with the kids.

“Her story really hit home to the participants because I feel like a lot of people have been touched by suicide,” Fountain said. “To hear somebody who experienced that with her brothers firsthand, I thought she had a unique perspective with insight she could give us on that. I thought it was really powerful.”

Bringing in a speaker is part of the school district’s plan to find resolutions to its concerning mental health issues, which are higher than state averages in a few categories.

Survey data
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey helps to provide valuable information regarding the health behaviors of students in grades seven through 12 with a focus on improving outcomes for students, especially in the areas of AODA/Mental Health services, programming and grants. The survey allowed parents to opt out their children from participating.

From the study conducted in 2017, 30.7 percent of the Clintonville students could be considered depressed, which is 6.1 percent higher than the state average.

In addition, 19.9 percent of students reported having a plan about how they would attempt suicide in the last 12 months, compared to 12.1 percent as the state average.

The survey found that 13.5 percent of students reported having attempted suicide at least once in the last 12 months, compared to 6 percent as the state average.

Students’ attempted suicide rate where they had to be treated by medical professionals is 7.5 percent, compared to 2.5 percent as the state average.

Clintonville was one of 66 school districts in the state to receive funding that will help reduce or prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs among their students through a competitive grant program. Clintonville received a grant for $15,000.

The YRBS study found that 52.5 percent of the Clintonville students surveyed have drank alcohol at least once, 21.6 consumed alcohol before age 13, 29.5 percent have reported drinking the last 30 days and 17.2 percent of students have reported binge drinking in the last 30 days.

In addition, 21.9 percent of students reported riding in a car with someone who has been drinking, 21.3 percent have texted while driving and 28.1 percent reported being sexually active.

The survey has been given out since 2005. The district has improved in several areas:
• Tobacco use decreased by 22 percent since 2005.

• Alcohol use in the previous 30 days decreased by 20.5 percent since 2005.

• Riding in a car with someone who had been drinking alcohol decreased by 20 percent since 2005.

• Drinking and driving rates decreased from 13 percent to 5.7 percent since 2005.

• Students reporting that teachers really care about them has increased about 30 percent since the 2014-15 survey.

• Physical fighting in the last 12 months has decreased by 17.4 percent since 2005.

While those numbers have gotten better, Fountain said there has been an increase in mental health issues with students.

Fixing the issues
Fountain said she looked at what the district’s needs are in the area and looked at socioeconomic levels of families, truancy rates, academic concerns, discipline and police reports.

“We look at all of that data to get a picture of areas we need to be working on,” Fountain said. “Because of the high suicide attempts, depression rates, bullying and things like that, we’re focusing on helping connections with adults because students who feel more connected to adults and other students are less likely to have struggles. The more we can get them connected to school is one of the goals to improve connection and improve programs that build resiliency and grit in students.”

Fountain said the district will continue the Safe School Ambassador program at the middle school, which trains student leaders to help improve climate and culture of the school.

“We target these student leaders, and they are trained to intervene in situations when they see acts of mistreatment,” Fountain said. “The leaders meet twice a month with an adult facilitator to go over different situations and work on skill building in conflict resolution.”

In addition to continuing the Safe School Ambassador program at the middle school, the high school will start a program called Sources of Strength.

Like the middle school program, Sources of Strength picks peer leaders to go through training with staff. The leaders put on social media campaigns and are trained for the resiliency-based mental health program.

The social media campaigns are designed to increase youth and adult connectiveness and helping students realize they have lots of support in their lives they can rely on to help get them through difficult times.

The district also provides a Love and Logic parenting class and QPR (question, persuade, respond) training for people to know what to do if they feel concerned about somebody and how to get them help.
Fountain said mental health issues and drug and alcohol issues can be linked together.

“It’s all related,” Fountain said. “We have a mental health district team in year three of trying to teach staff and students more about mental health concerns and promoting how to be a more trauma-sensitive school. That’s been our mission. People struggling with mental health issues have a higher chance of drug and alcohol issues. It’s an ongoing concern with the youth of students resorting to drugs and alcohol.”

Fountain said students need to speak with an adult who can find help.

“They need to talk to a trusted adult and let them know what they’re feeling right away and know the adults can help,” Fountain said. “Kids tend to go to peers, but they really need to go to an adult, whether it’s a school counselor, teacher or parent. They need to reach out to somebody they feel safe and connected with.”

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