Last week marked another week of tragedy in Colorado schools with the two suicides at Arapahoe High School. Last month, Denver School of the Arts also lost a student, and goodness knows how many other schools in Colorado have experienced tragedy since the beginning of this school year. Just this morning, I read an article in The Denver Post focused on the issue, revealing that Colorado’s Safe2Tell program has seen a ninefold increase in suicide-related reports over the past six years. In Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 17.
As a parent and former school leader, my heart breaks for these families and school communities. How can we prevent these heart-wrenching experiences? How can we intervene and help guide our children and students out of their anxiety and depression to a more hopeful place? On Friday night, my 13-year-old daughter and I attended the wildly successful musical Dear Evan Hansen, which is a story about teenage suicide. In the play, the parents of two depressed high school students try desperately to reach their children and help them out of their despair. As I heard sniffles and crying in the audience, I realized many can relate to this.
As a mother, I have had more than one child struggle with depression and extreme anxiety in their teenage years. There is nothing more worrisome and stressful than trying frantically to find any level of relief for your child’s anxiety or depression. As educators, we also worry tremendously about the mental health of our students. Across the state, and within CSI’s portfolio of 39 schools, we see how many of our students are struggling to find a healthy mental state.
In response to this great need, CSI has worked hard to find ways to provide more access to resources for our schools. Some of our programs and initiatives include forming a school mental health network and implementing a Suicide Risk Assessment and Resource Bank Pilot Program. Many of our schools have made mental health a priority and have allocated numerous resources to providing a strong mental health program for their students. We need to ensure that every school has the support and every school leader knows how and where to tap into the best mental health resources that are available.
In the end, both parents and educators are hurting right now as they worry about how to reach our vulnerable youth, and how to be the first line of defense when our students find themselves mentally spiraling. We must remember to experience the pain when students end up taking their own lives but not let it paralyze or discourage us. In these darkest moments, we must remember that our collective efforts have saved students as well. Remember the students that have adults in their lives to guide them to a better place and have gone on to thrive. We won’t give up, we will keep trying to do more and to reach more students, and most importantly, grieve and remember our students whose despair was more than they could bear. Let’s continue to build a strong coalition that includes schools and families as we build a loving and compassionate support system for our students.