NEWARK – Newark High School freshmen take a depression survey each year.
Do you have less energy than you usually do? Check yes or no.
Does doing even little things make you feel really tired? Check yes or no.
The survey is part of a partnership with Mental Health America, and it’s a way to start a conversation with students about depression and suicide and offer help to those who might need it, said school counselor Scott Koebel.
This year, 381 freshmen took the survey, and 133, or 35 percent, were flagged for possible clinical depression, according to data from MHA.
That’s compared with 36 percent of students flagged for possible depression in the 2013-14 school year.
“I wouldn’t say I was shocked by (the numbers), just because it’s really hard to be a teenager nowadays,” Koebel said. “I think it’s just really important to make sure we’re looking out for our students, that they’re safe.”
Other county districts participate in MHA’s Signs of Suicide program, but — largely because of time and money constraints — Newark City Schools is the only district currently using MHA’s depression survey, said Justina Wade, suicide-prevention coordinator.
The survey has seven questions. Some are fairly general — asking about body image and energy — while others are a little more pointed: Do you think seriously about killing yourself? Have you tried to kill yourself in the last year?
This year, 45 students — 12 percent of the class — answered yes to one or both of the suicide questions, Wade said.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have not lost a student in Licking County in the past few years, but I know there’s been quite a few attempts,” Wade said. “We’re trying to be proactive about this. … We want to make sure that kids know that they’re cared about, that there are resources available.”
Students take the survey using ID numbers rather than names, but for those who answer yes to three or more questions, school counselors look up their names and call them down for a conference.
From there, it varies by student. For some, it’s a one-and-done conversation; maybe they just needed someone to talk to, Koebel said. For others, it might to lead to referrals for outside counseling or other mental health services.
MHA also offers a presentation on suicide awareness, teaching students what to look for and how to ask for help. In the months following that presentation, Koebel tends to notice an uptick in students coming to the guidance office, either for themselves or to refer a friend, he said.
The ultimate goal is do whatever possible to benefit students, Superintendent Doug Ute said.
“It’s tough being a kid these days. It probably always has been, to be honest,” Ute said. “We’re just always looking for ways to serve our kids, and we felt this was a good opportunity. We’re proud of what our staff does at the high school for kids.”
For years, Licking County ranked higher than the national average for its suicide rate. New numbers, however, show an uptick in the national rate, 13 suicides per 100,000 people, and a downturn in the local rate, 11.9 per 100,000, according to MHA data.
Those new numbers are from 2013 data. The previous numbers were from 2011.
High school in general can be tough, but freshmen in particular are going through a lot of change, Koebel said. They’re transitioning from a smaller middle school to a larger high school; they’re dealing with pressures from home, extra-curricular activities, or work; and, for the first time, “every class you take counts, shows up on your transcript.”
“I think teenagers have a lot on their plate,” Koebel said. And, “unfortunately, I think there tends to be a stigma that you’re somehow weak or inadequate if you reach out for help.”
Koebel’s favorite part of the screening is it opens the door for students who might not speak up otherwise. A student might be going through a really tough time, but if he keeps to himself and doesn’t have a behavior issue at school, no one might notice, Koebel said.
“The program is really valuable, in my opinion, for kids that kind of slide through the cracks,” said. “It’s he really helpful for identifying some of those kids and giving those kids a chance to say, ‘I’m dealing with a lot right now. I could use some help.’ “
Share the Love
Newark High School is hosting a Suicide Prevention Awareness Night from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Students will bring their phones and computers and spend the evening calling and messaging their contacts, letting know they are valued and giving them resource information in case they ever need help.
By the numbers
•Nationwide, someone dies by suicide every 13 minutes.
•More than 800,000 American attempt suicide each yer.
•Licking County’s suicide rate was 11.9 per 100,000 people in 2013, the latest data available. That’s lower than the national rate of 13 suicides per 100,000 people.
•In 2011, Licking County’s rate was 14.7 per 100,000, compared with a national rate of 12.4.
For more information on local treatment options and programs, dial 211 for the Crisis Hotline and Information Center.
Source: Mental Health America, 211
This article was in The Newark Advocate February 18, 2015.