1 in 10 Georgia students have ‘seriously considered’ suicide, some resources can help
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Mental illness continues to be a pressing and persistent issue facing students in Georgia, not unlike states across the country.
“I cry every day. It’s like my joy is just gone,” said Lynita Rugless, whose daughter Azaria died by suicide on July 14.
Rugless said her daughter battled social media pressures including cyberbullying for several years.
In a video Rugless provided, a 10-year-old Azaria asks the camera, “What’s wrong with me? You don’t know how it feels man,” alluding to someone bullying her over the glasses she was wearing.
Every year, the Department of Education surveys 6th to 12th graders as part of a health analysis.
Included in that survey are questions about a student’s relationship with suicidal ideation.
You can see the 2022-2023 results here.
Of more than 400,000 6th-12th graders surveyed, more than 1 in 10 said they had ‘seriously considered’ attempting suicide.
In the same survey, more than 1 in 20 said they had attempted to take their life.
Many school districts partner with local mental health providers that allow clinicians to see students with mental health needs on campus during school days.
In Atlanta, one of those vendors is Chris 180.
“It’s been really difficult for middle-schooled-aged kids at the time of the pandemic who are entering high school, so we’re seeing a lot more suicidal ideology,” said Kathy Colbenson, President of Chris 180, a non-profit focused on counseling and providing mental health resources to children and family care.
Chris 180 currently helps provide counseling to students from 81 schools in Atlanta Public Schools, along with public school districts in Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton Counties.
Colbenson said one of the most important messages to parents of those in crisis is to create a safe, comfortable environment that allows honest connection.
She recognized the dark side of social media and stressed that parents should keep a close eye on their child’s activity level.
“Moderation is really important. You’re not going to keep a kid from social media, but [it’s important] to have discussions,” Colbenson said, in an interview with Atlanta News First on Monday.
“Again it’s open lines of communication, and to monitor how much time is being spent,” she added.
Colbenson said thanks to a private donation they are holding free suicide prevention training throughout September, which is Suicide Awareness Month across the country.
You can sign up for the event here.
“Three simple steps can often make a difference in someone’s life. Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) are three lifesaving steps that anyone can use with another individual who may be contemplating suicide,” reads the Chris 180 website.
“Our goal is to train as many people as possible in this simple yet effective way of responding when someone shares with you, they may be thinking about suicide. Remember together we can all save lives by knowing how to respond,” it continues.
Public schools statewide are working to increase the number of school-based health centers, which may also provide access to a mental health clinician on-site, according to a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Education.
Rugless said that Azaria was bullied at school for several years, which led to the decision of having her attend school remotely this year.
A spokesperson for Atlanta Public Schools was aware of Azaria’s tragic death and confirmed that she was a former student of the district.
The district did not have any records or official reports of bullying Azaria.
The family of Azaria launched this online fundraiser to help cover the costs of a celebration of life in her honor.
According to the Department of Education, Georgia has a state-wide suicide prevention task force and a 5-year-plan, which started in 2020.
You can review the plan here.
In terms of training, all districts may include mental health awareness training as part of their school safety plans and have a district policy in place for suicide awareness, prevention, interview, and postvention, a state spokesperson said in an email to Atlanta News First.
For students in crisis, the student is not left alone, parents are immediately contacted, and the school crisis teams assess the situation based on local plans, continued the spokesperson.
Last year, the Georgia Department of Education offered 265 mental health-related learning opportunities to 10,335 educator and school staff participants.
“We plan to continue and expand those opportunities during the 2023-2024 school years,’ wrote the spokesperson.
If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis, call 988, a hotline dedicated to providing mental healthcare.
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