Addressing teen suicides in the Washoe County School District

“A child is never too young to start talking about their value”
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 8:19 AM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - September 10th to September 16th is Suicide Prevention week, a week to recognize the lingering stigmas of suicide, acknowledge the thoughts we have and to take action against suicide. Although conversations can be difficult, it is important to keep momentum against suicide rates.

“If you can see yourself in me, you can see that this can happen to you,” said Kerri Countess, who lost her son, Caleb, at age 14. She is the founder of Forever14, a local nonprofit that fights against teen suicides by advancing human connectivity. “Forever14 is a local grass roots movement to end teen suicide in Washoe County and beyond.”

Studies have shown that suicide is one of the leading cause of death for ages 10 -14. Similar in high school aged students, suicide is the second leading cause for people between 15 and 24. Nearly 20% of high school students experience suicidal thoughts and 9% of them will make an attempt to take their life.

“We have a program called ‘Signs of Suicide’ which is an evidence based program that we deliver to all seventh graders,” said Keeli Killian, a WCSD middle school counselor specialist. “We partner with the Children’s Cabinet to offer screenings for students who have permission.”

On campuses there are licensed professionals that are able to meet the children where they are. On campus there is a full time counselor, mental health workforce, social workers, psychologists, family marriage counselors and peer to peer support programs.

“Those individuals are providing direct services on campus to students who have the most acute needs and this is a way to meet students where they are and to partner with your parents,” added Katherine Loudon, the WCSD coordinator of school counseling and social work.

There are peer to peer support programs in lower grades and in high school. This is to ensure connectivity amongst the students. “We have six schools, several middle schools and high schools that are piloting the program called HOPE squad, which is a peer to peer support program,” said Killian.

Students also have access to the Safe Voice to anonymously ask for help or report forms of bullying. On the back of each student ID is the suicide and crisis lifeline number, 9-8-8. This is to support students and the District’s A.C.T acronym. “Acknowledge care and tell. So acknowledge thoughts and feelings that are happening, acknowledge the situation, care about themselves and others and then to tell to report to someone who can help,” added Loudon.

“That’s all I can do is I can tell our story, and say, this is a reality of Washoe County,” said Countess. Parents are encouraged to look for warning signs in their child but sometimes it can be impulsive. “There were no warning signs. It just, they just gave up. And so that’s what we have to talk about impulse suicide.”

For more information about Forever14, click here. Saturday, September 16, is the Great Race to End Teen Suicide.

Fore more information about WCSD, click here.