Mental health committee working to get to the root of the problem

PLATTSBURGH According to a brochure provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Every 16 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies by suicide. Every 17 minutes, someone is left to make sense of it. With numbers so high and awareness so low, members of a sub-committee of the mental health committee for Mobilizing Action for Planning and Partnership are working to change that. Local organizations of the sub-committee include the Eastern Adirondack Health Care Network, Behavioral Health Services North and the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Champlain Valley. Mary Anne Cox, the Columbia Teen Screen coordinator through the NAMI:CV, has been using the teen screen method to determine whether students in area schools have thoughts of suicide. The first student I screened had suicidal ideation, said Cox. And it turns out that it wasnt that she had a mental health issue per se, it was that she was being bullied. Cox explained the student was new to the school and groups of students were bullying her in the hallways. The student felt suicide may be the only way out for her. She hadnt told anybody that she was being bullied, continued Cox. So, as a result of the screening, we talked to her family and the family talked to the school and it got resolved. And shes doing fine at this point. After looking at this particular case, MAPPs mental health committee realized the more information they received on bullying, the more they noticed its tie with suicide. We know bullying can create suicide ideation, said Bonnie Black, director of the advocacy program through Behavioral Health Services North. What behaviors lead to bullying? How do we control those behaviors from happening? Wheres the communication that begins this? So, in essence we hit the stop-gap. Were trying to follow it backwards, continued Black, and how can we approach it from this more global, so we dont wind up with students testing positive on a teen screen. Teen screens are currently being used in two area schools, with the goal to have them in every school in Clinton County. Every student must have parental consent, unless age 18 or older. Once consent is granted, the student must assent, as the program is completely voluntary, explained Cox. They then complete a 10-minute screening on a computer through Columbia University and determine whether they are positive or negative for suicide ideation. If its a positive, they get a clinical interview to make sure that whats reflected in the raw score is accurate, explained Cox, and to check out suicidal ideation and depression, anxiety, substance abuse. Since bullying seems to be tied in with suicide at times, the mental health committee is also looking into asset building, a bullying prevention program, to be used in the schools. It targets youth and teaches them skills to intervene with a small eye, explained Kim Crockett, supervisor of the Clinton County Youth Bureau. I think theres a lot of kids that see bullying and maltreatment and ... they really dont know what to do. And this gives them some really concrete things on how to handle it. And to feel like they have some power and control. We know that bullying is an issue and we know that it has an impact on mental health, Cox said. And every school has bullying as an issue. Cox also feels students are dealing with bullying more than they used to due to cyber-bullying through Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and through cell phone text messaging. They really are just inundated, said Cox. For more information about suicide and suicide prevention, visit AFSPs Web site at www.afsp.org. For information on bullying visit www. stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.

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