Health Department, schools partner to address #MentalHealth issues
- By Rachel Smith
With the new school year ushering in many social and academic stressors for the local youth population, the Hopkins County Health Department would like to remind students and parents of the numerous #mentalhealth resources readily available.
#Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, according to a 2017 study by the #U.S.CenterforDiseaseControlandPrevention. From 2012-15, prior to the launch of #mentalhealth programs in the county, five teen suicides were reported in Hopkins County, according to Hopkins County Health Department Director Denise Beach.
Beach, who serves on the Child Fatality Review Committee, said the teen #suicide rate in Hopkins County motivated her to launch several suicide prevention programs such as the teen #suicideprevention committee and the sources of strength programs at every middle school in the district.
Since the launch of these communitywide efforts in 2015, there has not been a single teen #suicide, according to Beach.
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With school beginning Wednesday for most local students, the health department has partnered with several community entities, such as the school board, to begin preventative measures.
A member of the teen #suicideprevention committee delivered a presentation on #suicideprevention and #mentalhealth at every school orientation in the district. They also gave out free gun locks and bracelets with a help and support contact number.
According to Beach, the committee — whose members include people from the UK extensions office, police department, and Pennyroyal Center — also targets specific age groups to focus on at the beginning of every school year. This year, students entering sixth and ninth grades will be targeted for help because of the additional stress of undergoing a transitional period in school.
“We think those are two of the hardest years,” she said. “For sixth grade, you’re starting middle school, and you’ve just gotten out of that environment of everybody taking care of you. Then in ninth grade, you’re starting high school, and you’re now the youngest person there when you’re used to being at the top of the pile in middle school.”
Students entering those grades have received pencils with a help and support contact number printed on the design.
“If they have a problem, they can text a #mentalhealth specialist and talk,” she said. “We also tell them something positive because we’ve found that upstream work, which means trying to encourage positivity versus waiting until someone has problems, has a lot more success.”
Hopkins County Schools Director of Assessment Andy Belcher, who serves as a member of #TeenSuicidePreventionCouncil, said he was extremely proud of the work the council has put into the school district since its founding four years ago.
“The council supports our students in many ways. It’s designed to tap into all the resources in our community to help young people realize that support is there for them in times of need,” he said.
According to Beach, all high school nurses provided by the health department have #mentalhealth first-aid training. In addition, she said, all school counselors have QPR (Question, Persuade, Respond) training to search for and identify #suicidal tendencies in students.
“We are working with staff to identifying (suicidal tendencies) in students,” she said. “But we are also working with the students themselves to help us combat the issue.”
In a recent initiative that began in 2018, the health department has partnered with the Hopkins County school board and state department of public health to install “Sources of Strength” in every middle school of the school district.
“This is a program that is used for #suicideprevention, and it works with peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture in schools,” she said. “This helps prevent #suicide, bullying and substance abuse.”
According to Beach, the program seeks one member from every social group in school to become “peer leaders” and work with staff to provide support and awareness of problems within the school.
Beach said the program is “evidence-based” and has had extreme success since its first iteration in schools.
Though happy with the progress, Beach said she realizes much work remains.
The health department partnered with Baptist Health Madisonville to conduct a community health assessment in Hopkins County late last year, and Beach said the assessment determined that bullying is one of the main points of concern.
“It’s important to know that even with chronic disease, substance abuse, cancer, and things like that, people are really worried about bullying in Hopkins County — either in their personal life or in their community,” she said. “We work on all these physical things, but #mentalhealth is one of the leading causes of death in teens. So it’s very important to us, and it’s very important to our community.”
Beach also wanted to dispel a common misconception that every teenager who attempts #suicide suffers from #mentalhealth problems.
“One thing that people need to remember is that teens are impulsive,” she said. “They don’t always have #mentalhealthissues when they make the decision to commit #suicide. Sometimes it can be something that they feel like is tragic such as a break-up, being in trouble at school, legal trouble, problems at home — those can seem insurmountable to a teen. So if you’re suffering from these problems, don’t keep it to yourself. Go to your school nurse, your school counselor, your minister, your parents — find somebody that you trust and get some help.”
According to Beach, the most direct preventative measure that an individual can do to improve #mentalhealth in the community is to open at least one line of communication among family, friends and peers. She encourages teenagers who are experiencing #suicidal thoughts to talk to a trusted adult to get the help they need to overcome their problems.
“We’re really committed to this,” she said.