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State Department of Education provides school districts training to prevent teen suicide

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Posted at 6:00 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 08:28:05-04

TULSA, Okla. — Teen suicide rates in Oklahoma rose 100 percent since 2007, compared to the national average of 40 percent, according to the Youth and Young Adult Suicide report.

Many parents in Green Country are wondering what's being done at the state level in our schools to fight that statistic.

"It is absolutely vital for us to be mindful of adolescent mental health,” Rebecca Hubbard, adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University Health Sciences Center, said.

The statistics of teen suicide are daunting for parents. On average, two Oklahomans ages 10-24 die by suicide every week according to the Youth and Young Adult Suicide report. The Youth Risk Behavioral Survey shows that one in four students reported they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row.

Experts said youth mental health issues are not typically discussed.

"That's something most people don't really choose to want to talk about,” Hubbard said. “First of all, people have a lot of fear around the word suicide. Second, they have a lot of fear around the idea and act of suicide."

2 News in partnership with “The Frontier” is working on a series to make the difficult discussion of suicide easier on parents and teens by providing knowledge and resources on what to do when faced with a loved one who is struggling.

"I think the biggest issue in general across the United States in Oklahoma… there is a huge amount of stigma just in regard to talking about mental health, especially with youth,” Dr. Cheryl Delk with the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, said.

She adds it’s important for those who see your children daily, such as their teachers, know what to do if faced with a child who needs help.

"Someone they know would step in and assist in finding the right help for that adolescent who is contemplating suicide,” Dr. Delk said.

Our team visited with the State Department of Education who said more is being done in schools to combat the rising trend, but that there is still work to be done.

“The importance of prevention is really a comprehensive system,” Elizabeth Suddath, executive director of prevention services and school climate transformation, said.

She said it starts with education, not only for students but parents and school staff members as well.

"It can be a very scary situation, especially if you are not exactly sure what to do in that situation, and that’s why we believe that the staff training component of suicide prevention is such a crucial piece to that,” Suddath said.

The State Department of Education currently provides districts with training to know what to do when a student appears to be struggling mentally.

The first task is recognizing the signs.

"What are the signs you can really look for,” Suddath said. “Then if you notice those signs, it is OK to ask the question, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’"

Psychologists said those signs typically are a change in behavior or mood.

"We're not expecting educators to be mental health providers, but we are there to make sure they are getting students access to services they made need,” Suddath said.

If a teacher believes a child's life is at risk, they should then have the knowledge of who to refer the child to. Suddath said the school should follow district protocol for the situation.

"At STE we are really focused on getting out the message that education is more focusing on the whole child,” Suddath stated. “It's not just academics, but also that social-emotional well-being of students as well."

The State Department of Education hosts trauma summits available for districts as well as crisis team training, all to bring the state's rising number of teen suicides down.

The recent passage of Senate Bill 21 made this training mandatory for all school districts in the state requiring an hour of training every two years.

2 News reached out to Gov. Kevin Stitt's office to see why he signed the bill and his thoughts on the training, but he did not make a comment.

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