Friday, August 19, 2022
53.0°F

Kalispell schools offer counseling, resources amid suicide cluster

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | September 19, 2021 12:00 AM

Following the suicide deaths of multiple Flathead and Glacier high school students, Kalispell Public Schools, counselors, psychologists and social workers are available to meet with students or connect them with other services.

If additional mental-health professionals or assistance are needed, the Flathead Valley Quick Response Team is available to schools. The team is a network of school counselors throughout the county who can help schools assess immediate needs following a traumatic event or crisis.

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill said parents who feel their child is struggling should reach out to teachers, administrators or counselors so they are aware a specific student needs support.

In communicating with families about the most recent student death, Hill emailed a letter to families last week offering condolences, sharing the district’s response in the wake of the tragedies and its ongoing commitment to supporting students with assistance from community partners: the Nate Chute Foundation, Tamarack Grief Resource Center, Logan Health, Flathead City-County Health Department, law enforcement and local clergy, in addition to Kalispell Public Schools’ Suicide Task Force.

“Following a suicide, we are left with a complex mix of painful emotions and unanswered questions that are exceptionally difficult to comprehend,” Hill stated in his letter. “As our school community copes with these tragedies, please know that many resources are currently in place to offer counseling and support to all our students and staff. We encourage you to talk openly and honestly with your child about these situations.

“If you feel your child is struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out to a teacher, principal, or counselor so we can specifically support your student,” Hill wrote. “KPS is committed to doing everything we possibly can to assist our students and staff through these difficult experiences.”

HILL SAID the district has been approached by people wanting to help, including suicide survivors. While appreciated, the district has strategies in place.

“Please understand that approaches and strategies implemented by our district are backed by experts in the field and supported by research in suicide prevention,” Hill said. “There are some actions and proposed ideas that can actually be more harmful and undermine other efforts that are in place. We collaborate with a team of community resources so that our decisions are deliberate, thoughtful, and respectful to our families.

“I don’t think our community is very aware of what we do and have in place,” Hill said during a phone interview with the Daily Inter Lake on Tuesday. “We have a suicide task force in Kalispell Public Schools, and have had for a number of years. We train our staff on the signs of suicide. We have curriculum on mental-health awareness we teach in middle school and high school. There are restorative groups — morning meetings where students check in at the elementary level. We print the suicide hotline on the back of student ID cards,” Hill said. “We’re also working on communicating with students on resilience.

“The list is long on all the things we do from a preventative standpoint.

“It’s challenging,” Hill said. “When you lose a student, a young person to suicide, there is a question of are schools doing enough, or doing more, and that’s always hard.”

THE SUICIDE cluster is uncharted territory for schools and some organizations that work with youth.

“Generally speaking we have not really had to deal with this from a school community-based perspective on the level we are dealing with it now,” Hill said.

Moving forward, the district will pilot a Student Assistance Program, which includes forming peer support groups facilitated by an adult. Both Bigfork and Whitefish school districts have similar programs with peer support groups. The groups serve as a safe space to talk about non-academic topics of concern such as grief and loss, family and relationship issues, alcohol and drug use, bullying, or other things students are struggling with in daily life.

Kalispell Public Schools, in coordination with the Nate Chute Foundation, will bring in Dr. Scott Poland to speak on suicide and hold trainings for high school and middle school staff, local medical providers and the community Sept. 27-29. Times and locations are to be determined.

Poland is a licensed psychologist and national expert on youth suicide, self-injury, bullying and school crisis prevention. He co-authored Montana’s “Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide,” which is accessible on the Office of Public Instruction website. Poland is also co-director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

Help is available

If you’re feeling suicidal, talk to somebody. Help is available.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the TrevorLifeline for LGBTQ+ individuals at 1-866-488-7386.

Text “start” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or the Trevor Lifeline at 678-678.

If you don’t like using the phone, or don’t have access to one, connect to the Lifeline Crisis Chat at crisischat.org or the TrevorLifeline chat at www.thetrevorproject.org.

Recent Headlines