SAN ANTONIO – Natalie Hierholzer, director of guidance services for North East Independent School District, says an increase in students dying by suicide is alarming.
“A lot of our kids are having a difficult time being at home and virtual,” Hierholzer said.
Hierholzer said she is urging the district and counselors to review the protocols to help students deal with mental health following student deaths by suicide and other attempted suicides this school year.
The numbers, provided by the district, show an increase in student deaths by suicide since 2018.
- 2018-19: 0
- 2019-20: 3
- 2020-21: 7
Hierholzer said that there are a lot of factors, which lead to the increase, COVID-19 being one of them. But she says counselors are having difficulty communicating with parents and guardians on effective ways to educate and intervene.
“They’re not maybe giving them all the details of what’s going on, like little pieces and that makes it difficult to work together with the family to help these kids,” Hierholzer said.
The concerning trend, Hierholzer says, is likely the same across San Antonio and the nation.
“When kids used to be in school eight hours a day, those teachers, they had their eyes on those kids. They knew when something wasn’t right,” Hierholzer said.
KSAT also reached out to other districts and hospitals to learn more about trends in the area and data-keeping.
Northside Independent School District reported two deaths by suicide to date in this school year and three in the previous two school years.
Additionally, officials told KSAT, there have been 49 suicide attempts this school year. There were 125 attempts in the 2019-2020 school year and 168 in the 2018-2019 school year.
Other school districts in the area told KSAT that they did not track that data.
Baptist Health System reports an increase of 12% from 2018 to 2020 in the admission of attempted suicide and suicidal ideation cases in those under the age of 18. They issued the following statement regarding their protocol.
“When children are admitted with suicidal thoughts, our medical staff ensures they receive immediate and compassionate mental health evaluation and recommend appropriate treatment plans, including therapy and/or medication as needed. Baptist Health System recommends that parents watch for suicide warning signs in their children, including feelings of hopelessness and talk of wanting to die, withdrawal from contact with others, mood swings, anxiety, and use of drugs or alcohol.”
Hierholzer said the key is making sure parents and guardians reach out to districts for help, as they have resources, like free counseling, that will benefit the student.
“There’s always a why for everything when we train our counselors is you got to get to that why,” Hierholzer said.
Hierholzer said the district is taking steps to ensure that counselors review the training that was done before the school year started and is also putting up filters in the more than 2,500 devices issued to students so that anytime the district IP is used it can look for keywords a student might be typing that could clue them in to intervene.
But, Hierholzer says, the best system is communication.
“I think people are a little fatigued on COVID-19, but taking care of your children has always got to be number 1 no matter what,” Hierholzer said.
Hierholzer urges parents to reach the school district for resources or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.