School districts spend a lot of money on Social Emotional programs; Positive Behavior Intervention Services (PBIS); Anti-Bullying and others. Districts employ psychologists and counselors (in some cases 1 or more per school) to help with these issues.
The information we are about to provide may come across as cold or heartless. That’s for each reader to judge. The intent is to raise the awareness of the topic to the public. We ask questions because without outcomes and analysis there is no way to see if we can do better. We hope this dialogue will result in better ways to deal with suicide in children.
We wondered what the data showed in the way of suicide’s in the K-12 range so we could start digging in to see if the programs are having any effect. So we went on a data gathering journey we would like to describe and share the information we found.
Step 1: Contact OSPI and ask for suicide information – Response: They don’t have any and don’t track the data. Why? They talk about suicide but don’t make an effort to track data to see if the time, effort and money spent has an impact. They suggested we reach out to the WA State Dept of Health.
Step 2: We attempted to contact the WA State Dept of Health. We emailed them and as of this report have never gotten a response. That’s in nearly 1 month
Step 3: We emailed the three (3) WA State Representatives for the 17th District (Paul Harris, Vicki Kraft and Lynda Wilson). We were fortunate to get a response from Vicki Krafts legislative aide who contacted the State Health Department and obtained, within 1 day, a report!
In the report we asked for and received reported suicides by school district by year for the years 2006 – 2015. There are 295 school districts so the data came in a giant spreadsheet. WA_State_Suicide_K-12_2006-2015 There is a caveat: This data is based on where the student was at the time of suicide. It is possible that they lived in a different school district than the one they passed in. There is no way to verify anything else.
When you open the spreadsheet you can look up any school district. What did we find?
First, let’s look at the districts in SWW:
What can we glean?
- Any…any student suicide is 1 too many
- The 3 largest districts in SWW had the most suicides: Battle Ground = 8; Evergreen = 8 and Vancouver = 6. Given that Battle Ground is about half the size of Evergreen and Vancouver the incidence rate is higher
- Statistically the numbers are very…very small. Is it even possible to prevent a suicide no matter what resources are expended? Are the programs effective and if so how do we tell? Are schools the right vehicle to use?
Now let’s look at Washington State and see if can learn anything:
- There were 11 districts that had 8 or more suicides in the 10 year period
- The larger the size of the district the larger the potential for suicides…but not all fit that mould
- Two SWW districts made it into the Top 11
- North Kitsap had 9 suicides but on a percentage basis that’s much higher
Special Note: Aberdeen SD with 3415 students had five (5) deaths in the 10 year period which makes it, on a student population basis, the highest in the State.
- Just under 40 per year (average for the 10 years) across the State
- It appears that the incidence spiked up in 2011 and then again in 2015 – why?
- In 2006/07 there were 1,026,682 students in the state
- In 2015/16 there were 1,086,000 students in the state
- The numbers are small. Is it even possible to reduce them no matter what the resources used?
- We need to understand what districts are doing, how much they are spending and somehow determine whether we can impact (reduce) the rate
- How do we determine whether any given program is effective? How do we determine if we need to make changes if we can’t define change?
- We also need to determine whether the use of social media, cell phone and computers is influencing the rate of suicides
- Is it the responsibility of school districts to have this as a focus or is it a family issue?
What say you? Have you looked into your local school districts programs and use of resources to see what works and what needs to change to reduce suicides?