After more than a decade, the Dubuque Community School District is reevaluating its protocols regarding suicide prevention. The district’s executive director of student services, Shirley Horstman, is leading a coalition of approximately 15 members that includes school counselors, nurses, principals, and resource officers, as well as a licensed psychiatrist, a mental health nurse practitioner, and a district parent.
Horstman said the main goal is to evaluate, update and formally compile the district’s protocols for responding to students who show suicidal tendencies, determining if the present policies are the best to address current needs. Named “Suicide Prevention, Postvention and Intervention,” this policy redevelopment is designed to expand on other classroom metal health protocols, placing a greater focus on student’s overall emotional wellbeing through social-emotional learning, greater family outreach and expanded staff development.
This reevaluation is in line with a greater overall emphasis on student mental health, not solely suicide prevention, across the Dubuque Community Schools. It’s a trend seen nationwide as districts increasingly recognize prevention and intervention as key ways to help youth develop healthy coping strategies that they can carry into adulthood. According to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness, and 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, highlighting the benefit of early education and intervention.
The Covid-19 pandemic further highlighted the need for greater mental health services for students and their families.
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