The Campbell County School District maintains its 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 proven problematic. The effort to address the problem comes as suicide rates in the state and Campbell County are on the rise.

“This is really something we’ve been working on since 2008,” said Kip Farnham, the district’s director of student services. “We had a subsidy from SAMHSA, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and it was a huge $6 million grant that we used over five years to put prevention programs in place, along with different kinds of intervention programs to reduce bullying and school violence.”

Additional grants helped create additional resources for students in the district, which included 18 programs.

“We were looking for ways to support them and decided to try to apply for some grants for a school health center,” he explained. “And because the focus is on mental health services, the pre-award of the SAMSA grant Safe Schools Healthy Students grants, as called for, we worked with the hospital to get mental health providers into our schools. We had four of these spread across all 24 of our schools. And it was a huge success for us.”

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

“We have the only truly specialized school health center in the state,” Farnum said. “And we have six mental health providers that work there, two primary care providers, one of whom is board certified in mental health. She can prescribe medicine for 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 next to one of Gillette’s two junior high schools.

“Then we thought if we could do a school health center and have the center of our mental health services or substance abuse services have some group activities and do substance abuse prevention and then also so to provide primary care for some for a large proportion of our students, that would be fantastic,” he said. “And we were able to do it.”

There are approximately 8,800 students in the countywide school district and the third largest enrollment of any district in the state. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic have affected students, of whom approximately 10 percent of each school receives mental health services from each school during the school year. The number of students seeking mental health services continues to increase by about 10 percent each year. Youth suicides began to become more of a problem around 2010 and peaked between 2014 and 2016, when nine school-age children and teenagers took their own lives, Farnham said.

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

“I think what the community and the school district have now is much, much more thorough than what it was back then,” Farnum said. “The children were taught how to refer a friend without looking like they were defaming 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 gotten a lot of those reports, and we’ve definitely saved lives.

Spanish-speaking students can receive counseling services through telehealth offerings from Jackson, which has bilingual therapists such as community there are no options for bilingual counseling, which has proven to be very popular with these students, he said.

Farnum said the county added other initiatives as they became available. He added that there is a big difference in the school district compared to the rest of Campbell County.

“In the last five years, we’ve had one suicide per student, and our suicide rate is going down,” he said. “In the community as a whole, unfortunately, it’s 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 Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also dial 988 or text “WYO” to 741741. Local mental health and substance abuse services are also available in communities across the country.

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