The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is seeing more students flagged for risk of suicide. Clayton Holland is the director of pupil services for the district, and he said more students are coming forward who are considering suicide. Students’ peers, school staff and community members are also identifying more students who they think may be at risk.
Once a student comes forward, a school psychologist, counselor, nurse or occasionally a school administrator will administer a suicide threat assessment to see how high the student’s risk is.
“There are questions asked of the student that gauge the student’s possible risk for suicide,” he said. “Sometimes it's very low. The kid said something or a student said something and they didn't mean it. But then, quite often too, the risk might come a little higher or medium.”
The school always notifies parents of the results of the test. Depending on the level of concern, the school may offer additional resources and connect the students and families with local mental health professionals. If it’s emergency, the school will recommend that the student go to the hospital.
Holland said so far this year, the district has given out roughly 46 assessments, mostly to middle and high school students. Last year, the school administered roughly 140 assessments, the highest number since the school began administrating them roughly eight years ago.
Holland said the growth is concerning, and it’s something the community and the district will have to work together to address. However, he said there may be a silver lining.
“The good thing out of this is the awareness factor that students are being more comfortable telling an adult at the school about what's going on or an adult outside of school as well who contacts us or the student themselves feeling comfortable sharing what they are going through.”
He also said the district has been training more staff to recognize signs of distress in students.
The district has multiple programs in place to prevent student suicide such as Signs of Suicide and Sources of Strength.