B y Jaime Thomas
With a startling number of Granville students reporting suicidal thoughts or attempts in a recent survey, the district is taking the problem seriously.
School staff, parents and officials from throughout Washington County participated in a forum Monday night to discuss mental health issues among youth.
Michael Gray, director of Washington County Alternative Sentencing and Youth Bureau, led the discussion. At the forum were three representatives from Hudson Falls School District, where several steps have already been taken to combat depression and bullying.
Lisa Hogan, social worker associate, Michelle Burke, school nurse teacher, and Principal Jim Bennefield talked about their district’s partnership with CDPC (Capital District Psychiatric Center) North. The setup provides a clinic in the school that is separate from the district, where students can easily access mental health counseling.
“The convenience of it is really a plus,” Hogan said. “The students go into counseling primarily during study halls. If they’re having an awful, terrible day, they’re able to go down and see a counselor.”
Bennefield explained that the services are for youth in the community up to age 18, who might not otherwise be able to get therapy, and it’s completely confidential.
“The clinic is its own entity—it gives kids a better opportunity to get an intake. There’s so many times we hear parents can’t get away from work or kids can get there; this is easier,” Granville Superintendent Mark Bessen said.
Hogan said all students who use the clinic first undergo psychiatric evaluations.
“I have so much faith in them; they’re such a quality staff,” she said. Bessen told Gray he would be interested in the district looking further into setting up a similar program in Granville.
The Hudson Falls officials also discussed a suicide prevention program with a survey and video, which they believe has been effective. The program, which costs only $395, encourages students to ACT (acknowledge, care and tell).
“The kids really take it seriously. It hits a lot of nerves with a lot of kids. We got a lot of great feedback and follow through with the kids,” Burke said. One parent in attendance said that price is “cheap,” considering all the lives it could save.
According to the survey, almost 9 percent of students claim to have attempted suicide, 14.7 percent say they’ve considered it and about a third report feeling depressed in the prior year.
Tying in with the depression conversation is the topic of bullying, which remains a serious problem despite attempts to curb it.
“With bullying you used to see a strong kid picking on a weak kid. The bullying we’re dealing with today is a lot more discreet. The kids are getting bullied 24 hours, seven days a week,” Bessen said.
Hudson Falls uses an anti-program that is different than, but similar to Granville’s own PBIS.
“PBIS is working—the high school is a different climate now than it was five years ago,” Bessen said. The group also discussed the Natural Helpers program, in which students select their own peers to partake in training to stop bullying.
“Look at the different cliques in the schools; that leader is a person that’s going to stand up in that group. I don’t think we’ve worked it to its fullest potential, and we’re looking to make that grow,” he said.
Officials are looking to hold another forum at the beginning of December to further discuss the issues and potential solutions.