Our kids are going back to school and many of us are thinking about backpacks, school supplies and physicals. With bus schedules, class schedules and afterschool activities, our kids can easily get stressed about the beginning of a new school year. For some children, especially teens, this stress and anxiety exists at a dangerous level.
In Indiana suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 and the 4th leading cause of death for youth ages 5-14. Experts and teens list several reasons for the increase, including insufficient mental health screening, poor access to mental health services and resistance to seeking care. Suicide ideation and attempt rates are also found to be higher during the school year than in the summer.
Sadly, Hoosier youth are significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their peers nationally, and Indiana faces significant disparities in youth suicide among vulnerable groups.
- 1 in 5 Indiana high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The percentage of students who seriously considered suicide increased from 18.0% in 2005 to 19.8% in 2015.
- Indiana ranks 2nd out of 34 states in the percentage of students who made a suicide plan and ranks 3rd out of 37 states in the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide.
- Among our neighboring states, Indiana has the highest percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide and the highest percentage of students who made a suicide plan.
For more data on Youth Suicide in Indiana, read IYI’s Data Brief.
Based on these pressing needs, the Indiana General Assembly has passed youth suicide prevention legislation in the past two sessions. Effective June 30, 2018, all teachers and educators for students in grades 5-12 are required to participate in at least two hours of youth suicide awareness and prevention training every three years.
For details about the required training, school responses and effective interventions, go to the Indiana Department of Education’s website.
A sophomore struggling academically thrives after being guided to a drafting course available at his school. Fifth graders throughout a district learn the connection between school and work through an annual BizTown event. And 21st Century Scholars attend an afterschool seminar where they get hands-on training in the Scholar Success Program. These are just some examples of school counselors helping students thrive. Yet many Indiana students are at a critical disadvantage—there is not enough counseling time to reach every student who needs it.
The Center for Education Statistics ranked Indiana 42nd in the nation for having one counselor for every 541 students in 2013. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. But Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) data shows that for every 619 students, Indiana has just one licensed counselor.
This is not only a problem on the state level. Ratios vary greatly from county to county. The IDOE data shows Washington County has the lowest student-to-licensed counselor ratio in the state, with one licensed counselor for every 351 public or charter school students. Crawford County has the highest county ratio at 1,606:1. However, several districts around the state, especially charter schools, have no licensed counselors on staff.
ASCA identifies three essential areas where counselors can support student success: academic performance, college and career preparation and social/emotional development. Many schools report success with their academic counseling efforts, which can cover traditional counseling activities such as course selection or study skills, but the highest need lies in the areas of college and career preparation and social/emotional issues.
For example, school counselors assist students with family issues such as divorce and deaths of loved ones, managing emotions, resolving conflict, and learning interpersonal skills. Counselors help students with bullying, drug abuse and mental health issues in an era when nearly one in five Indiana high schools students have considered suicide — tied for the third highest rate in a national survey.
Dr. Michele Moore, superintendent for the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, says the number of students needing assistance with social/emotional issues continues to increase. Her district’s eight licensed counselors are “putting out brush fires that have to be immediately taken care of.” In recent years, counselors have seen more students dealing with parents who are incarcerated or addicted to heroin/opioids. It is easy to understand how student achievement and success can be sidetracked by these complicated issues. School counselors are uniquely trained and qualified to help students cope with these situations.
School counselors know that student academic and social/emotional well-being are interconnected and critical to long-term achievement. Counselors play a key role in career development, helping students at every education level understand the link between school and work opportunities, while also guiding students toward college and career transitions.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports that Indiana will need to fill one million jobs by 2025. Mark Friedmeyer, president of the Indiana School Counselors Association, says counselors need to start the career readiness process at the elementary and middle school levels. “If they wait until they get to high school to learn about that then that may be too late,” he says.
A comprehensive counseling approach provides adequate time for counselors to address all three critical areas with all of the students they serve. Recognizing the increasingly complex challenges schools and students face, a groundbreaking new effort from Lilly Endowment Inc. will address the academic, college and career, and social-emotional needs of students. Through grants to public school districts and charter schools, the Endowment’s new five-year, $30 million initiative will help schools better meet students’ needs for comprehensive school counseling.
This grant is both an exceptional opportunity and a sizeable challenge. That’s why the Indiana Youth Institute was asked to assist school districts with the planning, implementation, evaluation and sustainability of their initiatives. Information on available services can be found at www.iyi.org/counselinginitiati… and by calling 855-244-7175. Once again, we are reminded that student well-being and achievement is a shared responsibility of schools, families and the community.
(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. To provide feedback on the column, she may be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)