Expert: Mental Health Classes in Schools Could Help Address Nationwide Suicide Epidemic

June 08, 2018 11:24 PM

Most suicides don't involve celebrities, but sometimes people only start talking about it after a high profile death.

This week alone, KSTP spoke with three families whose lives changed because of the suicide of a child.


"She used to tell me a lot, 'Granny you're special.' Because I used to call her special," Mary Broadus said as she reflected on the life of her 6-year-old granddaughter, Kendrea Johnson. Johnson was found dead in her bedroom in December 2014.

RELATED: Suicide Rates Jump in Minnesota, Across US

"I don't want a single person to suffer as bad as I'm suffering. It's hell. Hell on earth," said Chad Johnson. His 12-year-old daughter, Stephanie, was found in her Milaca school bathroom in April, 2018.

"Do I still cry? Yeah," said father Karl Narveson about the 2004 death of his 17-year-old son, Derek.

The three different families have never met, yet they're all connected by the tragedy of losing a child to suicide.

RELATED: Parents Seek Change Following Daughter's Suicide at Milaca School

"I held him in my arms when he was brought into this world, and I held him in my arms when he left," Narveson said

"I know the problem. I don't know the solution," Johnson said.

It's a public health crisis even the experts don't yet fully understand.

RELATED: State's Suicide Crisis Hotline Prepares to Shut Down 

"It's happening at a pace where it's hard to even study and understand the factors that go into it," said Dr. Kaz Nelson. Nelson is the vice chair for education in the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry.

She believes, as suicide rates rise, there's no reason states shouldn't start implementing mandated curriculum around mental health.

"Emotional self-management classes in school (to address) what do you do to tolerate distress? How do you regulate emotions skillfully? How do you interact with others in a way that fosters healthy relationships? All of these skills, not everybody has," Nelson said.  "The stakes are very high with this. Even higher than knowing calculus or not."

RELATED: Hennepin County Agrees to Pay Out $1.5M in Lawsuit Stemming from Foster Child's Death

Right now, state law requires teachers in Minnesota complete one hour of suicide prevention training each year.

However, it's not standardized. So in more rural areas, that training might just be something as simple as bringing in a speaker.

The evidence-based training software Kognito was piloted in 34 schools in the 2017-2018 school year. It's an evidence-based tool that trains teachers to watch for warning signs and learn ways to talk to at-risk youth.

A bill would have standardized suicide training for teachers by bringing Kognito to every school in the state but it was in the omnibus appropriation bill that was vetoed.

According to a Department of Education student survey, 4,967 eighth graders in Minnesota Public Schools reported seriously considering suicide in the last year.
By eleventh grade, that number nearly doubles to 9,352 students.



Katherine Johnson

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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