Rapid City schools resume with focus on mental health

Friday, August 30, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Rapid City school administrators are paying extra attention to students’ mental and emotional health as the new school year begins following a rash of student suicides in the district.

The Rapid City Area Schools District trained faculty as well as building, transportation and nutrition staff in suicide prevention before classes resumed Wednesday.

The training is called QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer — a suicide prevention methodology developed by a company of the same name, the Rapid City Journal reported.

The district also hired Sarah Zimmerman to serve as a school suicide prevention specialist.

“There’s a limited number of mental health professionals within the schools,” Zimmerman said.

She said because students form relationships with anyone they see regularly during the school day, it’s important for as many school employees as possible to be able to spot warning signs that point to suicide.

Six students in the district killed themselves over the past three years.

Red flags include apathy, withdrawal and changes in sleeping and eating habits with addition to making jokes about and indirect references to suicide, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said teachers and other school employees are instructed to speak with students privately if they believe them to be a suicide risk. Parents are to be notified throughout the course of an intervention, which includes referral to school mental health professionals.

The district also plans to host seminars for parents and guardians on how to identify suicide risk factors, Zimmerman said.

Assistant Superintendent Matt Seebaum said that the district will continue its efforts to prevent bullying. While bullying can lead to suicide, it is not necessarily a cause, Seebaum said.

“It’s a risk factor for students whether they are being bullied or are a bully,” he said.

Last school year, about 228 instances of bullying were reported to administrators, Seebaum said.

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