VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - When there's a child in desperate need of help, it's all hands on deck for Vigo County Schools.
"We can't take a chance of them not getting over there once we've determined they're in crisis," said Asst. Student Services Director Rick Stevens, "There's just a lot of kids experiencing crisis right now."
Stevens said Vigo County Schools already have a protocol in place if it's suspected that a child is experiencing suicidal behavior.
"Whenever the school counselor gets involved with a mental health case, where there may be a need because of suicidal ideations, we refer out immediately that day," he said, "and then myself and Dr. Balitewicz, we follow up with the kids and their families to make sure they make it there that night."
One of the places students are referred to is The Hamilton Center, specifically the office of Missy Burton. Burton is the Clinical Supervisor of Child and Adolescent Services.
"They are coming across the board," she said.
When Burton sees a child that's been referred through the school corporation, she says they'll do a mental health assessment to determine the lethality of their behavior.
"Do we need to be able to hospitalize or form a safety plan," Burton said, "and here, we staff them with one of our nurse practitioners or one of our psychiatrists."
Burton said when she first started, she saw more high school students. However, throughout the years, she said the alarming trend has made its way down to as young as elementary aged students.
"To tell a very young person, a small child and their parent, that we're recommending hospitalization is a very tough hurdle to get over," Burton explained.
When asked about Indiana's new mandate to promote suicide prevention in schools, Burton said it's a great idea that teachers can receive the necessary training to spot red flags.
"Unfortunately, teachers aren't just teachers anymore," Burton said, "They are dealing with students who are hungry, students that are homeless, students that are incredibly under resourced. On the flip side of it, they're dealing with students who are so jam packed with expectations of getting scholarships, and doing sports and all these activities, but they are managing a lot of mental health issues within that school day."
Burton said Vigo County has been proactive in regards to suicide prevention.
Vigo County Schools and The Hamilton Center have worked together for several years. School personnel are already being trained in mental health awareness and that, Burton says, helps with getting students referred easier.
"They're now more aware of what to watch for, what to do when they notice something," said Burton, "Understand that if somebody steps in and says 'we've noticed this about your child', that is not a blaming or shaming type thing. It's simply 'we're concerned for your child and we want to help'."
The growing trend is far beyond Vigo County. Burton said young people in general continue to face a great deal of pressure ranging from their home and school lives to what they see on television.
"Sometimes young people talk about suicide without really understanding that suicide is permanent, that death is something that they don't come back from," Burton said, "It's just much more prevelant because people are talking about it, it's being live streamed at times which is very scary."
Burton said she wants parents and young people to realize that suicide and depression is real, and that it does not discriminate against your income or background.
"Do not be afraid to ask for help," Burton said, "I think a phrase that I would love to have folks take out of their vocabulary is 'attention seeking', 'this child is just attention seeking'. Unfortunately, sometimes that's what they feel like they have to do to get someone to pay attention to them. We've had people, who I honestly believe, took their own life because they were trying to get attention, just to say I need something from you and accidently made a lethal move."
While the end goal is to help students and prevent them from taking their own life, Burton said it's always a tough blow when there are some children that they just couldn't reach.
"Who have we missed? How is it that we can put this much mental health effort into our Vigo County Schools and still miss a young person who may be struggling," Burton said, "I think that every time we have a suicide in Vigo County. How did we miss that one? Because even one is too many."
Burton said not every school corporation has the luxury to work with outside community groups. She recommends parents to reach out to their child's school corporation to find out what their plan of action is in regards to mental health awareness and suicide prevention.