COOS BAY — As summer approaches, the Marshfield High School Crisis Team worries about students struggling with suicide.
“More students come and discuss that feeling of loss and that there’s nothing to live for more often than we see kids abusing drugs,” said Eli Ashton, vice principal, at Pirate Hall. “Maybe they don’t talk about the drugs, but they talk about this.”
Though it is roughly one percent of the student population struggling with this problem, he said it is an ongoing battle for those teens. The Crisis Team deals with three or four cases a week.
The MHS Crisis Team was established almost four years ago. Ashton says that every year, the number of students reporting these struggles has steadily increased, causing the team to grow. Right now, the MHS Crisis Team includes administration, counselors, the nurse, graduation coach and special education department chair.
“We are the main resource right now for these students and going into summer … that worries me,” said Jessica Sprague, MHS department chair for student services and counselor.
To help these students prepare for dealing with these issues while out of school, Sprague plans on sharing information for them to access the county’s mobile crisis unit, the suicide help line, and any other service the school can provide before they leave.
“We’re also making sure that not only key players in the district crisis teams are trained, but are starting to get our staff trained to be trauma informed with mental health first aid,” Sprague said.
Ashton said 75 percent of the staff has been through that training so far.
“We’re trying to get as many people aware of what the issue is because in our department we see them in the moment of crisis where the teachers see them every day,” Sprague said. “We see them at their worst.”
One of the difficulties dealing with this issue is that it can’t be solved in one sitting when the student first approaches their office.
“It’s not something new for them,” Sprague said. “They will have been struggling with it for a while.”
When asked why there is a steady increase of students struggling with the issue, both Sprague and Ashton said they haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause. However, Sprague believes that the stigma surrounding mental illness is starting to break thanks to positive discussions of the problem being brought up by celebrities.
“I think how it’s being portrayed right now is for people to seek help,” Sprague said. “It’s not necessarily negative attention. It’s saying that this is an issue and society is realizing it’s more widespread than ever before. It’s making students more comfortable to let us know when it happens.”
As more and more students seek help, the school is seeking a way to balance how it manages the crisis at the time and then how to manage it along the way to help these students cope from day-to-day.
“When we get to the root of what caused these students to have those thoughts or have a bad day, it’s usually something small,” Sprague said. “A lot of times it’s about learning ways to cope with what’s happening in their life for things like relationship issues with friends or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Right now we see students without those basic coping skills that as an adult you can process through and move on. That’s a big struggle.”
Next school year, Sprague says the team hopes to use resources through Coos Health and Wellness and the Waterfall Clinic to have small coping skills groups with students.
“Part of the struggle is getting students to additional resources,” Sprague said. “It’s out there, but getting them to appointments means we’re working more closely with Coos Health and Wellness and the Waterfall Clinic. As a counselor, we’re trained in a little bit of everything. We can help in the moment when those feelings arise, but ultimately our goal is connecting them with someone trained specifically in mental health.”
If you or someone is dealing with suicidal thoughts, visit www.wfall.org/patient-care/mental-health/ or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.