Campbell County School District is keeping a focus on mental health and suicide prevention

Campbell County School District (CCSD) Officials focus on Mental health and suicide prevention as part of their plans to combat an issue that has been proving problematic. Efforts to address the problem come as the state and Campbell County suicide rate increases.

“We’ve really been working on this since 2008,” said Kip Farnum, the district’s director of student support services. “We had a scholarship from SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Organization and it was a huge $6 million grant that we used over five years to set up prevention programs along with various types of intervention programs to reduce bullying and violence in schools.”

Additional scholarships helped set up additional resources for students in the district, which included 18 programs.

“We looked at ways to get them and decided to apply for some grants for a school-based health center,” he explained. “And since the focus is on mental health services, the previous grant is the SAMSA grant Safe schools, healthy students Scholarships said we were working with the hospital to bring mental health providers into our schools. We had four of these circulating in all 24 of our schools. And that was a great success for us.”

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This led to the creation of the children’s clinic, a child and school health center unique among the state’s school districts. He said it currently employs 16 people, a four-fold increase in seven years, and offers counseling and psychiatric services, among other things. The services are offered in partnership with Campbell County Health (CCH).

“We have the only truly dedicated school-based health center in the state,” Farnum said. “And we have six mental health providers working there, two primary care providers, one of which has a mental health certification. She is able to prescribe medication to children and just work with them in different ways.”

The clinic came about because of the problems the district was facing. It was decided that a dedicated facility was needed to address these issues, which is currently housed adjacent to one of Gillette’s two junior high schools.

“Then we considered if we could build a school-based health center and make it the center of our mental health services or substance abuse services, do some group activities and prevent substance abuse and then also provide primary care to some of the vast majority of our students, that would be fantastic,” he said . “And we were able to do that.”

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There are approximately 8,800 students in the school district, which covers the entire district and is the third largest by enrollment of all districts in the state. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on students, with about 10 percent of each school receiving mental health services from each school during the school year. The number of students seeking mental health services is increasing by about 10 percent each year. Teenage suicides began to become more problematic around 2010, peaking between 2014 and 2016, when nine school-age children and adolescents took their own lives, Farnum said.

District staff and teachers also participate in continuing education courses and a variety of other training courses. Identifying signs of depression, anxiety and possibly suicide is part of what they’re trained to look for, he explained.

“I think what the community and the school district have now is much, much deeper than it was then,” Farnum said. “Children have been taught how to recruit a friend without looking like they’re ratting on him or being a snitch. And they can do it anonymously through another program called Safe2Tell where they can text or call and anonymously report someone having suicidal thoughts. And we’ve had a lot of those reports, and we’ve definitely saved lives.”

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Spanish-speaking students can access counseling services through telehealth services from Jackson, which has bilingual therapists community does not have bilingual counseling options, which has proven very popular with these students, he said.

Farnum said the district has added more initiatives as they become available. He added that the school district is very different from the rest of Campbell County.

“In the last five years we’ve had one student who committed suicide and our suicide rate has gone down,” he said. “In the community as a whole, unfortunately, things are going in the opposite direction. So we feel like we’re doing a really good job.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. You can also dial 988 or text “WYO” to 741741. Local mental health and substance abuse services are also offered in communities across the country.

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