Over the past few years, Forsyth County Schools has gone to great lengths to increase the safety and mental wellness of students, providing more trained boots on the ground, new wellness programs and working towards a more accepting school environment.
But numbers from the Georgia Department of Education suggests that suicidal ideation in some Forsyth County students may be on the rise.
According to data compiled from the Georgia Student Health Survey, of the 19,716 students in Forsyth County surveyed in 2018, 8.9 percent stated that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, an increase of 1.5 percent from the 2017 survey.
At the grade level, the number of high school students who stated they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months decreased from 11.4 to 8.5 percent while the number of middle schoolers increased from 5.4 to 6.3 percent.
PERCENT OF FORSYTH COUNTY STUDENTS WHO HAVE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED ATTEMPTING SUICIDE
The data reflects that of the students surveyed in 2018, 2.3 percent of students, more than 500 middle and high schoolers, stated that they had attempted suicide one or more times in the previous year.
"We would like for all these to be zero," said Katie Newman, school social worker and mental health services coordinator for Forsyth County Schools.
Newman said that each year the system uses the immense amount of data that is gathered in the Georgia Student Health Survey to assess where the district is and how students are doing.
Many of the questions in the study deal with things like how students feel about school, whether they feel successful and how they are treated, while other questions serve as an anonymous touchstone to see what needs to be improved.
Newman said that the top three reasons for suicidal ideation that they have found are demands of school work, family reasons and problems with peers and friends.
But the data from Georgia Student Health Survey shows that when students are asked why they attempted suicide, hurt themselves on purpose or seriously considered suicide, the overwhelming answer is for “other” reasons, beyond options like demands of school work, problems with peers or friends, not feeling safe at school, family reasons and being bullied.
Newman said that in combating this huge problem of addressing suicide and working towards preventing it, they have had to erase the stigma of suicide in schools and work towards mental health positivity for everyone.
"Looking at suicide prevention, we really wanted to look at a continuum of care, not just prevention intervention and post-vention, but a multi-tiered approach," Newman said.
This multi-tiered approach, according to Newman, involves not just fostering student and teacher relationships but also changing classroom and school climates and improving collaborations between school, home and community. Newman said these three approaches have been embedded into the Social-Emotional Learning program and the student learner profile.
"Not only what we are teaching about social-emotional learning, but how are we teaching it," Newman said.
Newman said that the school system has a mentoring program that begins as early as kindergarten and allows identified students to be paired with a trusted, skilled mentor who they can spend time with each day.
On the other side of the equation, Newman said that they have made it possible for anyone in the system to receive counseling, from their youngest students to teachers and administrative staff.
"We know that when a student has a trusted adult, they are less likely to get involved in risky behaviors and less likely to feel isolated," Newman said.
Newman said that for any parent or student that is in crisis and needs help, they suggest calling the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225.