With the addition of 15 student-support counselors to address school safety, Clear Creek ISD staff is at work identifying those with mental health issues, including those at risk for suicide.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. In 2016, over 6,150 Americans ages 10-24 took their own lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Natalie Uranga, director of counseling and student services for CCISD, wants to make sure the district is prepared to handle students experiencing mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.
“My job is to ensure that we try through the schools to be preventative and that we are also responsive to students in crisis,” Uranga said.
CCISD offers two types of training to address mental health.
An annual mental health awareness training session is a requirement for all staff. The 45-minute class teaches staff how to identify and respond to students displaying signs of a mental health crisis.
In addition to the annual training, in January 2015, the district was awarded a Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education, or AWARE, grant that helped fund its Youth Mental Health First Aid program, a more intense course that covers mental illness among students.
“We also provide a much more in-depth training,” Uranga said. “We have 10 certified youth first aid trainers in CCISD, and we are very diligent in making sure that we have at least one of those classes available each month.”
Since starting the Youth Mental Health First Aid program, CCISD has trained more than 537 participants. The eight-hour course is available to teachers, staff and the community, she said.
According to the CDC, self-inflicted violence is defined by suicide, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation is when a person thinks, considers or plans on suicide. CCISD uses the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale to help gauge the severity of students’ mental health problems, Uranga said.
“We have very specific protocols and procedures in place,” she said. “If we think a student is potentially at risk for suicide, we use an evidence-based screener to help us identify suicidology, intent and planning, and that helps us understand where that student is in terms of risk level.”
After unveiling the results of the screening, CCISD will provide parents with a list of resources and options for engaging mental health care providers through families’ insurance providers or various agencies to give students the level of treatment needed.
In some instances, insurance companies will not provide sufficient help to families. CCISD is trying to secure grants to provide psychological therapy to uninsured or underinsured students, Uranga said.
CCISD also has tools and resources available to staff, students and parents. One option is to report at-risk students through the district’s online, anonymous reporting tool, See Something Say Something, Uranga said.
Additionally, CCISD counselors will take referrals in complete confidentiality from teachers, students and parents. Custodians are helpful, too, because they witness daily interactions between students, she said.
Uranga encourages residents to collaborate with schools and combat the alarming rate of youth suicide by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 if residents or students display suicidal tendencies.
“CCISD’s goal is to partner with parents not just in education but in supporting the whole development of their child,” Uranga said.