HOLLAND, Mich. -- Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teens. From a local perspective, the most recent Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey revealed 20 percent of teens seriously thought about suicide in the last year, 15 percent made a suicide plan and 8 percent attempted suicide one or more times. On average, this means five kids in every middle and high school classroom seriously thought about taking their own life.
“We have an increasing number of students in our school community who are experiencing high degrees of trauma and exposure to at-risk behaviors. This is contributing to severe mental anxiety and risk for self-harm, including cutting and suicide ideation,” said Dr. Brian Davis, Superintendent ofHolland Public Schools. “In my nearly 30 years of public service in education, I have yet to see a greater need for mental health care in our schools than what is present today,” he added.
Every school year, Holland High and Middle Schools each perform about 50 Suicide Risk Assessments. Students who express suicidal thoughts to their friends or staff are screened immediately by two school professionals; one is a counselor and/or social worker. The results of these evaluations are shared with the student’s parents to determine next steps of either therapy orhospitalization. Many parents do not stay in follow-up communication with school staff, so students at-risk can, and do, fall through the cracks. Also, Kids admitted to an Emergency Department for suicidal thoughts or actions, outside of normal school hours, do not always inform the school of the situation or provide an accurate account of their treatment plans.
To address the gaps and inconsistencies in care, Holland Hospital is implementing a School Mental Health Program for the 2019-2020 school year.
“The program is designed to address and ideally resolve the mental health issues our children face so they can grow into healthy, stable and productive adults,” said Holland Hospital School Nurse, Hendrina Cupery.
A Holland Hospital school nurse will transition into the role of School Mental Health Care Manager (SMHCM). The SMHCM will serve students and families by coordinating services throughout the continuum of care to improve quality and reduce avoidable admissions/re-admissions. Assuring the appropriate use of resources while focusing on positive outcomes, the SMHCM will take a proactive role through the early intervention and identification of at-risk students by performing a suicide risk assessment, as well as partnering with school nurses, school staff, physicians and outside agencies.
The School Mental Health Program will start with one full-time SMHCM and utilize the HollandHospital School Nursing Program infrastructure for support at no additional cost. Holland Public Schools will provide office space for the new program. Holland Hospital’s Fund Development department is actively seeking grants and donations to support the salary and sustainability of this new position. Fund Development has secured a $70,000 grant (over the course of three years) from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, a $3,000 donation from Lake Michigan Credit Union’s Band Together for Kids’ Health Campaign and a generous donation from the Julie & Kirk Cousins Foundation.
“Without this program, our children would not have access to quality, timely, responsive, preventative and effective mental health care that specifically addresses suicide risk,” said Dr. Davis. “Some of these children desperately need it to be successful in our schools and desperately need it to live and thrive,” he added.
Holland Hospital will evaluate the program growth to determine the need for a second position and/or expansion into the West Ottawa School District.
For more information or to give to the School Mental Health Program, visithollandhospital.org/donate.