SPUSD holds informational meeting in response to increased suicide concerns

SPHS addressed an increase in students’ suicidal symptoms during an informational meeting titled “Teen Depression and Risk Factors for Suicide” for community parents on Monday, Feb. 25. The event gave attendees an introduction to various disorders that can lead to suicide and the measures taken by the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) to address student suicide in the district’s middle and high schools.

Data from the 2017-2018 Child and Healthy Kids Survey, administered to seventh, ninth, and eleventh grade SPUSD students, found that 17 percent of surveyed seventh graders and 37 percent of juniors reported experiencing chronic sadness. In addition, 15 percent of freshman and 23 percent of juniors claimed to have considered suicide in the past, and about 10 current students this year have also been hospitalized due to exhibiting potentially suicidal tendencies. SPHS Child Welfare Counselor Natasha Prime believes that there are similar trends in South Pas elementary schools and the middle school.

The forum opened with a video presentation from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in which parents and teachers gave insight on the danger presented by mental disorders and how to approach students struggling with suicidal thoughts or behavior. Several prevalent disorders, such as major depression, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as their symptoms, were also discussed.

The meeting concluded with a brief question and answer section, in which parents were able to voice their opinions on the current state of teen anxiety and suicide. Attendees shared their experiences in overcoming depression, as well as potential methods that SPUSD could implement to expand its current services. One speaker, a member of a suicide prevention organization for teens, offered her own materials for the district’s use and inquired about opportunities to give presentations at SPHS in the future.

Prime suggested during the session that parents should voice less concern over their children’s academics, noting that the factor seems to be a significant source of anxiety for high schoolers.

“I had a student tell me, ‘my only purpose in life is to get good grades,’” said Prime. “I’m finding that most of these kids just don’t know what to do with these feelings.”

The South Pasadena Unified School District increased awareness for teen suicide following a series of student suicides in Palo Alto high schools around 2009. The State of California passed Assembly Bill 2369 in July of 2018 in response to the suicides, making suicide prevention training mandatory for all public school faculty and students statewide and devoting $1.7 million to fund the online training.

The student-run Peer Mediators will host a similar presentation for SPHS students in the near future. District administration will also continue to receive instruction on proper conduct for at-risk students, as it has for the past four years.

Any residents who have questions or concerns about teen suicide are encouraged to visit the National Suicide Prevention Line’s website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The National Suicide Prevention Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

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