At the Desert Sands Unified School District, 21 percent of the students surveyed over five-year period, from 2013 to 2017, contemplated suicide. In Palm Springs Unified the number was 19 percent, and in Coachella Valley Unified the number was 13 percent.
Briana Carrick is substitute teacher in the Palm Springs Unified School District.
“They see things that are magnified on social media, and they are comparing themselves to something that is not completely true,” said Carrick.
The data that was analyzed came from California’s biennial “Healthy Kids Survey” and was based on a random sampling of schools throughout the state.
The survey also asks students about drug use, bullying and weapons on campus.
“I know that is something we take very seriously here at Desert Sands,” said Laura Fisher, Assistant Superintendent at Desert Sands Unified School District.
She says the district has in place a multi-layered “Suicide Prevention Protocol”, including “risk assessment reports” typically filled out by counselors when they perceive a student might be at risk.
Last year, 199 reports were filed in the district, from a total student population of 28,000.
“It is really heartbreaking, and we know with whether you are an adult or child, having those kinds of feelings and needing, making sure we have someone in place to provide that support is important,” said Fisher.
Other district resources include a district web page for students to use, even anonymously, to report concerns about someone who might be suicidal.
Also, for every student in the district, on the back of their school issued badge are phone numbers for suicide prevention hot lines.
“There is a lot of stress and pressure on kids nowadays, we need to make sure that we have the structures and supports in place, so are the numbers surprising? yes,” said Fisher.
Additionally, when district students access the web using their school issued Chromebooks, the program “Gaggle” tracks online activity and will alert administrators when behavior indicates there might be a problem.
News Channel 3 contacted representatives at Palm Springs Unified School District to request information on what programs and measures the district has in place regarding suicide awareness and prevention, and we received a written response from Dr. Anne Kalisek, Executive Director of Student Support Services.
Dr. Kalisek wrote:
“In response to a national and statewide concern about suicide among adolescents, we provide suicide prevention lessons in grades, 5, 7 and 10. We implemented these required lessons starting in the 18/19 school year. In addition, our counselors and psychologists perform a suicide risk assessment if they are informed that a student is contemplating suicide. Based on that assessment, we contact parents and/or law enforcement, and provide necessary interventions. Our counselors regularly refer students to our mental health therapists for assessment regarding depression and anxiety if symptoms are manifesting themselves at school, or a parent calls to make us aware. Parents can also take their child directly to our mental health department for an assessment. According to Education Code, all students in grades 7-12 have suicide hotline numbers on their I.D. cards, which includes our local What’s Up Safehouse app, from which students can seek help 24/7.”
The Coachella Valley Unified School District did not respond to News Channel 3’s request for information and comment.