Leaders concerned after more than a dozen Mason students recently hospitalized for suicidal thoughts

A recent jump at a local school system in the number of students needing medical attention for suicidal thoughts has other area school systems on alert.

During November, 15 Mason students were taken to the hospital after reporting suicidal thoughts. The local incidents of “suicide ideation” mirrored a national trend of more students reporting such thoughts.

Mason Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper made the recent spike in incidents part of his weekly video statements in late November telling school families “this is concerning to us.”

The district is not alone.

A nationwide survey of high school and college students in August found nearly 25 percent of the high school students questioned said they knew a peer who had experienced suicidal thoughts since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The survey conducted in part by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, showed 5 percent of both high school and college students reporting suicide attempts in the months prior to the survey’s release.

Mason school officials said their local instances during the heightened tensions for students in this pandemic has seen even more resources shifted to assuring the mental health well-being of teens in the southern Warren County district.

“Now more than ever we are experiencing an increase in children and adolescents expressing signs of hopelessness, depression, and anxiety about what is going on in our country and across the world including the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Nicole Pfirman, mental wellness coordinator for the 10,500-student school system.

“These feelings, along with the social isolation that some children are experiencing due to COVID-19, have led to an increase in suicidal ideation. As a result, we have seen an increase in families requesting mental health supports for their children during the school day. We are hopeful that through the supports and services we have in place and a return to social normalcy, that we will be able to slow this trend,” said Pfirman.

Mason officials also released a statement as part of the district’s regular, weekly communications to school parents noting “suicide tends to be more likely among those who are dealing with a mental health issue, individuals with a trauma history, or those with a family history of suicide.”

“If you notice your child expressing thoughts about wanting to die, feeling like they have no reason to live, talking about feeling trapped, or searching for information about suicide methods online, seek professional help immediately,” said officials.

Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the 16,800-student Lakota Schools, said the district has expanded the number of mental-health counselors in the district’s 22 schools.

“We have actually seen less hospitalizations of our students this year compared to last,” said Fuller.

“Through our partnership with MindPeace, we have been able to place school-based therapists in 15 of our schools and continue to do so, with the goal of having a therapist at each of our buildings.”

“Our counselors are connecting students with the care they need through this service, as well as referring them to outside help when needed. Additionally, the student members of our (teen suicide prevention) Hope Squads at both Lakota East and Lakota West high schools are doing a tremendous job reaching out to their peers and referring them to counselors for help when necessary,” she said.

And the nearly 4,000 students whose families chose to have them take all virtual learning from home aren’t being left out, she said.

“With roughly 25 percent of our students enrolled in our Virtual Learning Option, we have also been very intentional about making sure that they have access to our mental wellness and prevention programming.”

How to get help

For school families and students seeking help in dealing with suicidal thoughts there are local and national resources available.

Area schools urge students and their families to contact local school counselors who work closely with area mental-health agencies.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has a psychiatric intake response center staffed 24/7. If you have questions, call 513-636-4124. Also available is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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