LISD officials spoke about the resources the various campuses provide as well as different action plans the schools take each year to address mental health. The district has several departments that have some role in addressing mental health, including Counseling Services, Student Support Services, Family Services Team and Chemical Abuse Prevention Program. The school also works with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, which serves as a local mental and emotional health resource for adults, adolescents and children in eight counties in the Central Texas area.
Tiffany Allen, director of expanded services with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, said suicide is the second leading cause of death in youths 10-24 years old in Texas.
“This is something that is pretty prevalent and something that we need to be on the lookout for,” she said.
Factors and tips
Some risk factors associated with suicidal tendencies include talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when those actions are out of the ordinary for the person, talking about feeling hopeless, increasing alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from friends, family and society, feeling rage, uncontrolled anger or looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means.
To help address mental health and other issues, many of the speakers at the district event stressed the importance of parents having conversations with their children. Haley Simmons, LISD Family Services Team social worker, addressed mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. She said the first thing a parent can do to engage their child about their mental, emotional and physical well-being is engage them in conversation.
"The first thing you want to do is create a safe space for them to communicate, and you do this by focusing on listening and not lecturing or passing judgement on them,” she said.
Other tips were to be gentle but persistent, to respect their child’s comfort level while still emphasizing the parent’s concern or willingness to listen.
Allen encouraged people to ask questions such as, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” or “Have you had thoughts of suicide?”
“It is not comfortable to ask those questions, but it’s really important to ask them and to use the words,” she said. “…the reason we use the words is for someone who’s been depressed for a long time, and they’ve been in pain for a long time, the thought of dying may not be hurting themselves; it may be an end to the pain."
If the answer is yes, Allen encouraged parents is to stay calm, listen and ask questions. If the student has taken steps to plan a suicide, Allen said that can be a sign to reach out to local crisis services for help.
Dealing with stress
Speakers discussed other issues that can lead to mental, physical and/or emotional health issues, including bullying, alcohol, drugs and stress. Christina Hollander, lead counselor at Cedar Park High School, talked about the role stress and anxiety can have in life. She said a certain amount of stress in life is healthy, but constant stress is damaging to health.
Hollander said some common myths listed regarding stress were that stress is the same for everybody, that it is always bad, that there is no stress if there are no symptoms and that only the most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best.
“We know that we are all different. We know that our approach to life is different; our approach to social situations is different and so therefore our approach to stress is different,” she said.
A full version of the presentation will be available under News on the LISD website, www.leanderisd.org starting April 18.