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School system steps up suicide prevention efforts

Beaufort County Schools is offering new resources to parents, students and staff members through its Project AWARE program, after seeing an increase in suicidal thoughts among its students during the past six months.

“Our suicide ideation rate did increase during the pandemic,” said BCS Project AWARE Coordinator Renee Boyd. “That was a real clicking point for us to promote suicide prevention awareness. From last September to March, and then looking at March to the end of the year, our suicide ideation doubled.”

While BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman says no students have acted on those suicidal thoughts, the school system’s approach to addressing the issue will be multifaceted.

For teachers and staff members, it means additional training that will help them recognize the signs of suicidal behavior. It also means helping parents and students recognize those same signs, and giving them the tools they need to have conversations about it.

“We’re also in the process of getting three instructors for what’s called teen mental health first aid,” Boyd said. “That is where you teach students to recognize mental health issues among their peers and help them receive the right services.”

BCS will also soon release an informational video and resources created in collaboration with Integrated Family Services to help in that process.

“They have worked to create a parent and student video that will be available on our website,” Cheeseman said. “Specifically, it will teach parents about warning signs for suicide ideation, but also, it will help them with conversation pieces around how to talk with their children and what options are available for parents who have concerns about their children.”

Project AWARE is not a new effort for BCS. In 2018, the school system received a five-year grant to develop a comprehensive plan of activities, services and strategies to meet the mental health needs of its students. This year, the school system has also contracted with a mental health liaison, who will support counselors in helping students access mental health services.

“Wellness, not just with our students and families, but with our employees, is extremely important to us,” Cheeseman said. “We try to meet people where they are and support them in their needs.”

For those who may be concerned about their child’s mental health, Boyd says school counselors are the best point of contact to help parents work through those issues.

“Our school counselors have really stepped up and are playing a large part in that,” Boyd said. “If parents contact their school counselor, they can put them in touch with the right people.”

RECOGNIZING SUICIDE IDEATION

For those experiencing suicidal thoughts, or who have loved ones who may be, there are a number of resources available, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and the Hope 4 NC Helpline, which can be reached at 1-855-587-3463.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline describes says the following may be signs of suicide ideation:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself;
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself;
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose;
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain;
  • Talking about being a burden to others;
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs;
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless;
  • Sleeping too little or too much;
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated;
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.