VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) – September is Suicide Prevention Month.
And per a state ordered mandate, all public schools in Indiana must have suicide prevention trained staff, this includes only superintendents, principals, librarians, social workers, teachers, school nurses and school psychologists.
Last May, Vigo County School Corporation trained around 250 staff via evidence based training from the Indiana Suicide Prevention Network.
Staff must complete the remaining training from Kognito by September 30.
Support staff are not required to complete the training, however it is encouraged.
Kognito, according to Assistant Director of Student Services Rick Stevens, is a virtual realty training program that prepares staff for situations they may be confronted with.
“It may be about their grades, their behavior, their home life or other issues. Maybe drug and alcohol and other things,” he explained. “And it just allows you to kind of work through that. The virtual reality icon speaks then you get to ask different questions.”
Christina Crist, mother of Hannah Crist who died by suicide in September of 2013 and Executive Director of Team of Mercy, went on to explain that having trained staff in the schools could save a student’s life.
“I feel that our teenagers would be more apt to reach out for help and say you know what? I’m not doing okay today,” she said. “Could you take time and talk to me about why?”
Funding for this training was made possible by the Project AWARE grant VCSC received last year.
Since the training, Stevens mentioned referrals to mental health facilities such as Hamilton Center have gone up, mostly due to staff recognizing signs of distress.
“Over the last three our four years we started out with a 100 suicide referrals, crisis referrals. Then it went to 200. Then went to 300,” Stevens said. “This last year we hit over 400 referrals in the Vigo County School Corporation.”
According to the CDC, Indiana has the third highest rate of high school students in the nation who have contemplated suicide.
Suicide is also the third leading cause of death for youth aged 10 to 14, and the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15 to 25.
By breaking down the stigma of mental health, by speaking openly about suicide and prevention, Crist believes students will have a safe place to relay their personal concerns.
“If we’re teaching our kids you’re not going to be okay everyday, it’s okay to struggle. It’s how you get through that struggle, and let me help you with some skills to get through that struggle,” she said. “That’s where we’re gonna save lives.”