RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) — New data shows Richmond Public School students are increasingly at risk to commit suicide, a troubling trend prompting school officials to draw attention to children’s mental health needs.
While there were 150 suicide risk assessments completed last school year, the school district says there have been 197 throughout the current school year — a 31% increase, and an all-time high. Notably, three months remain on this year’s school calendar.
The data was published and shared with the RPS school board Feb. 16.
Pains of the pandemic and online peer pressure could be the blame for the increase.
“The world changes as fast as we blink,” said Angela Jones, RPS director of culture, climate and student services.
Jones suspects a mixture of social stress from pandemic-era learning could be triggers for distressing thoughts, including juggling difficulties with a shift to virtual learning and missing out on encounters with friends.
In addition, Jones mentioned that virtual learning at home may have also welcomed increased time spent on social media.
“Sometimes we connect in ways that are uglier than we would have. Particularly young lids, particularly in that middle school age range.”
Middle schoolers have primarily been the majority of students at risk of suicide, but Jones said elementary-aged children are increasingly at-risk.
The Virginia Department of Education has held suicide prevention training for school staff. A training video conducted last year also dispelled myths about suicide. Among them? Those at-risk just want attention.
“They just feel helpless and hopeless,” said Martha Montgomery, a school psychology specialist for the department.
“They’re going through a very serious mental health symptom either through a mental illness or a very difficult life situation,” she said.
Jones added that early intervention is vital to addressing suicidal thoughts in their infancy.
“It is perfectly OK to not be OK,” she said.
If you suspect a student is at risk, Jones recommends contacting school counselors, principals or social workers.
If you know someone who is expressing feelings of isolation, hopelessness or depression, mental health advocates urge you to contact someone who can help. Anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also dial 988 to be connected to the hotline.