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Brainerd School District: 'A difficult school year': Brainerd school discuss mental health services

The Brainerd High School lost two students this school year to death by suicide, and Forestview Middle School has seen an increase in suicidal concerns among all its students in fifth through eighth grades.

Forestview Middle School Principal Jon Anderson talks Monday to the Brainerd School Board about mental health services, while FMS counselors Trudi Storbakken, Alison Medeck and Daniel Fischer listen.Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch
Forestview Middle School Principal Jon Anderson talks Monday to the Brainerd School Board about mental health services, while FMS counselors Trudi Storbakken, Alison Medeck and Daniel Fischer listen. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd High School lost two students this school year to death by suicide, and Forestview Middle School has seen an increase in suicidal concerns among all its students in fifth through eighth grades.

"We have had a difficult school year," BHS Principal Andrea Rusk said Monday at a Brainerd School Board meeting. "Two weeks ago we gathered (about 30) people to look at mental health services in the district. ... I feel fortunate that we have a lot of support in place."

Rusk, FMS Principal Jon Anderson and FMS counselors Daniel Fischer, Trudi Storbakken and Alison Medeck gave the board an update on what services the schools provide to address mental health issues with students.

Rusk said BHS uses a comprehensive approach with students, starting with its counselors and support staff in the student center. She said the district also contracts with 10 Northern Pines employees who provide mental health services and classes to high school students. The high school has registered nurses who help and clubs-such as Student Council, Key Club and Interact Club-who coordinate educational events.

Rusk said it will take the school and the community-which includes the faith community, the medical community, and the city, county and state governmental officials-to make a difference. Rusk said this group met and made efforts to implement a plan.

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"I have been overwhelmed with all the support for the professionals in the community and the students," Rusk said.

Forestview officials made a decision their focus for the 2017-18 school year would be on suicide prevention because of the increased suicidal concern among its students. In the school's counseling report, it asked, "How can our counseling department improve suicide prevention protocol and identification of students by formalizing the screening, intervention and follow-up process with students?"

Storbakken said they support students with a lot of different needs and talked to many students before spring break and "it was emotional." She said suicidal concerns among students in Brainerd, as well as the nation, are increasing.

For a week this past October, seventh-graders saw a presentation from the Crisis Line focusing on the signs and symptoms of depression, suicide awareness and how to seek help if they have concerns for themselves or others. After the presentation, students completed a survey and overall 90 students met with staff regarding a suicidal concern.

Medeck said there are a variety of concerns they see with students with mental health, including anxiety, stress, worry, sadness, having a conflict with a friend or classmate concerns with academics or grades, family concerns, or the need of social or emotional support.

Medeck said if they hear a student say something concerning-even if it was said in a joking matter-they will contact the parents to make sure they know. Then if there is an issue, it can be discussed at home and at school.

Fischer said there is one counselor for every 963 students in the Brainerd School District and one counselor for every 667 students at Forestview. He said the American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students.

"We know we are low," Fischer said. "We lag behind in funding. ... The needs of the students are increasing. ... There are a higher level of conflicts and they are growing from the social media that gets filtered into the school and we are spending lots of time working with these things with the kids. ... This is a nationwide problem."

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Fischer said the more adults who care about a student and their life will help the student be successful.

"It's about building relationships," he said. "We try to define suicide prevention, but it is so many things. It is going back to the groundwork of building a sense of community. We know there is a loss of connectedness (among people)."

Upcoming

The Brainerd Dispatch is working on a series of stories on suicide prevention and awareness to be published in upcoming editions. The series will provide more details on how the school and the community are working together with mental health services.

Related Topics: BRAINERD HIGH SCHOOL
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