School News from the Superintendent’s Office
Laguna Beach Unified School District
National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: A Climate of Care
The month of September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Communities across the nation raise awareness about the impact of suicide, take time to reach out and support those impacted by loss, and enhance efforts to connect individuals who are at a heightened risk of suicide to qualified mental health crisis systems of support.
In school-age youth across the U.S., death by suicide is the second leading cause of death. In Orange County, statistics from 2016 indicate that there were 16 youth deaths by suicide, up from 7 in 2007, according to the California Department of Public Health. Across all age groups in the U.S., death by suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the most recent full year of data collection in 2017 according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Vital Statistics System.
Within National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we observe National Suicide Prevention Week that runs from September 8 through 14 and emphasizes the power of connections and the importance of discussing mental health in everyday moments. These efforts aim to destigmatize individual’s experiences of distress and to promote action to connect those in need to qualified supports. World Suicide Prevention Day, on September 10, promotes the collaborative commitment of working together to prevent suicide through increasing awareness about the complex set of causes, risks and warning signs, and compassion and care for individuals in distress.
In the Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), an important area of focus has been to increase the social and emotional strength of all students in our schools. Our efforts have been focused primarily on increasing mental health awareness and reducing stigma in the identification and access of professional support, school-wide and classroom prevention, and enhancing crisis systems of support. For our student population of close to 2,800 students at four school sites, the district employs a team of credentialed school-based mental health professionals, including seven school counselors, four school psychologists, and two student support specialists providing services as school social workers as well as a dedicated Director of Social Emotional Support that oversees our programs.
There are multiple ways our team of school-based mental health service providers, administrators, teachers, and staff focus on suicide prevention efforts. LBUSD is one of the first school districts in the state to implement a universal social-emotional learning screening program that is made available to all students in kindergarten through 12th-grade, two times per year. This best practice approach enables school-based support teams to use evidence-based screening tools to identify students who are at risk and may be in need of further support, further enhancing our prevention work. Additionally, all staff who directly serve students in grades 6 through 12 are trained annually on the topic of suicide prevention, which includes training in identifying the risks and warning signs of students in distress, and how to take timely and decisive action to connect students to qualified support.
At the middle and high school level, the student support specialists lead suicide prevention week activities to increase staff and student awareness on the impact of suicide, risks and warning signs, and how to access supports for themselves, a friend, family member, or colleague. The Laguna Beach High School (LBHS) student support specialist, Ms. Alex Aronson, co-leads suicide prevention awareness classroom lessons alongside School Resource Officer Corporal Ashton in all 9th-grade health classes. Lastly, in response to recent legislative changes, suicide prevention hotline information has been placed on the back of every student’s school identification card in grades 6 through 12.
The work of suicide prevention, and youth suicide prevention, in particular, is a community effort that includes schools, families, public health officials, emergency responders, and more. There are multiple local and national resources available to help increase knowledge and awareness of suicide prevention, risks and warning signs, and ways to provide crisis support. One California-based resource, Know the Signs, provides important information about identifying indicators of risk through conversations, actions, and social media. Know the Signs provides a conversation framework for concerned family members or friends to start the conversation, listening and expressing care, creating a safety plan, and getting help. Lastly, Know the Signs helps individuals connect to qualified crisis resources, including:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741
Trevor Project: National Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ Youth: 1-866-488-7386
For individuals needing support after losing someone to suicide, resources can be found at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Note: Dr. Michael Keller, director of social and emotional support, contributed to this report.