ROUND ROCK, Texas — The latest CDC survey on youth risk behavior reveals alarming trends about young people and their mental health.
- School district get virtual training for suicide prevention
- Simulators train educators on how to recognize warning signs
- Survey says 12 percent of TX high school students say they attempted suicide
In past legislative sessions, state lawmakers have taken steps to prevent youth suicide including getting educators involved. School districts administrators across Texas are turning to virtual teachers to do some training.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 34 percent of Texas high school students felt sad or hopeless, nearly 18 percent seriously thought about suicide, and 12 percent say they attempted suicide. Those rates have been rising in the past ten years.
“We believe that society in general has gotten better at allowing people to talk about mental health,” LaShanda Lewis, the district coordinator for counseling services at the Round Rock Independent School District said. “Listening to students and listen to our counselors across the district, there's a lot of stressors on students. There's always been that academic concern, but I think even more so now.”
In 2015, state lawmakers directed school districts to identify ways to address the needs of students for suicide prevention. Forty districts across Texas, including Round Rock ISD, have been turning to Kognito, a health simulation company. The training includes scenarios with a teacher and different students facing unique challenges.
“Unlike many of the other trainings that are out there, it allows them to practice and really make those mistakes, and do so in the comfort of whether it's in their own home or their own time,” Lewis said.
The simulations hope to train educators in how to recognize warning signs, how to have sensitive conversations with students, and how to direct students to the mental health professionals or counselors on campus.
“What we tell teachers is that, ‘You have those students in your class every single day. Besides the parents, you're going to be one of the first people that's noticed that there's something different with the student,’” Lewis said.
Lewis said the district did a survey with staff members that went through the Kognito training and found that almost all of them thought the training was good or very good, while 95 percent of respondents felt it was more beneficial than traditional presentations.
Round Rock ISD leaders said they go beyond what is required under the state education code by providing some type of suicide prevention training to all staff on campus. The law as it is, only applies to new hires. Some mental health advocates believe the 2015 legislation is only a first step.
“It’s also important that schools have policies and procedures in place on how they're going to respond once a suicide does affect their school community,” said Josette Saxton, the director of mental health policy for Texans Care for Children. “We know that kids who are exposed to suicide are at higher risk of acting on their own suicidal thoughts.”
Advocates said by addressing the mental health needs of students, they are also helping them become fully engaged in their education.
“It needs to be reoccurring to make sure that it's an immediate reaction or response when someone sees there might be a problem,” Saxton said. “Just like teachers and schools go through fire drills on a regular basis, all the adults in a school need to have training and practice on how they are going to respond to a potential suicide risk among students.