MU program gives teachers tools to stop teen suicide

The program was recognized nationally for its efforts in preventing suicide in teens.
Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer

In the wake of highly publicized teen suicides across the country, the College of Education’s Missouri Partnership for Educational Renewal has given school districts across Missouri the tools they need to prevent tragedy before it happens.

“Teenage suicide and other mental health issues are still the ‘elephant in the room’ for many school districts,” said Julie Harrison, coordinator of guidance and counseling for the Parkway School District, which has teamed up with MPER. “MPER encouraged us to examine mental health issues in every school. As a result of the training MPER provided, we developed a systemized suicide prevention program and plans following a tragedy.”

According to a news release, MPER is a collaboration of 22 school districts representing 178,000 students and is in charge of improving education throughout the state. MPER administrators developed the Mental Health Leadership Academy to educate teachers about student mental health.

“Education in the United States has undergone a dramatic shift throughout the last 40 years,” MPER co-director Dan Lowry said. “A school counselor once talked to students about their career options. Today, school counselors must treat an array of student mental health issues and be aware of legal requirements concerning how to handle problems such as depression, over-medicated students and student suicide. MPER did the background work and research on the policies that work, so the school districts could focus on safety and the total needs of students.”

Through the Mental Health Leadership Academy, teachers in the Parkway School District have training that allows them to differentiate between normal adolescent behavior and potential suicidal actions.

Parkway now has a student suicide policy that clarifies the process any school in the district would take in the event of a student suicide. According to a news release, these steps include the principal verifying the suicide, circulating answers for potential student questions, notifying friends of the deceased in person and contacting school administrators, the school’s crisis team members, teachers and social workers throughout the district.

The policy also suggests making an announcement over the school intercom, establishing a crisis room and follow ups including counseling referrals, reviewing the curriculum for topics that might recall the suicide and ongoing staff development for student suicide and depression.

“We’ve helped Missouri students receive a better education, and education translates into a better job, higher earnings, better health and a longer life,” Lowry said.

For its effort, the Mental Health Leadership Academy was presented with the “Michelli Award for Promoting Social Justice” from the National Network for Educational Renewal on Oct. 20. The award letter states that MPER “provided multiple levels and domains of support for vulnerable students and staff who too often have few options or resources that promote their holistic wellbeing."

“To have MPER’s work in mental health be recognized with this national award is quite an achievement,” said Lowry, who accepted the award on MPER’s behalf. “(Student well-being) is the ultimate mission of MPER.”

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