In July, Jeffco PEN published an article about the various mental health resources available to Jeffco students. In response, we heard from a female Jeffco student who graduated in May.
We have chosen to keep information about this student confidential, but have permission to share the following details from “someone who received lots of mental health support” her senior year.
This student told us that during her senior year she “dealt heavily with grief,” including the death of her best friend, plus other friends and family members. She also attempted suicide more than once and experienced “traumatic events that resulted in PTSD.”
She wants you, our readers, to know exactly what Jeffco’s professionals were asked to address.
More training to help all educators support traumatized students
When asked what worked well, this student said that her school psychologist was “extremely committed and invested” in ensuring she was on a positive path. Although she did not feel all issues were handled correctly, she felt Jeffco and her school had good intentions, cared about her personally and wanted to see her get better.
She also said that she struggled to see how much people cared because she was in “a dark place.” Looking back, she can now see the people she encountered “cared a lot.”
However, she told us that “there are many things that need improvement in Jeffco [Schools] mental health.” This student would like to see additional training for all Jeffco employees about how to help traumatized students.
For example, all staff need more training to effectively think about the words they use with traumatized students, what their body language conveys and how they respond to struggling students.
“I cannot stress enough how important the language you use is to someone in such a bad place,” she said.
There were times this student felt “guilty for needing/seeking help,” felt like a “burden,” and felt “immense pressure to get better.” She stressed that “it takes time and support to get better.”
“There were times that things my ‘mental health supporters’ would say left me feeling even more hopeless than I thought. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to save one,” she said.
“It’s not just the Jeffco mental health team that needs better training/education on how to help at-risk students, it’s the whole staff who needs to learn what NOT to say and what to say,” she explained.
She also acknowledged that her outward demeanor may have camouflaged her struggle, preventing her from receiving mental health resources sooner. Nevertheless, she noted that she is not the only student whose struggles are not apparent, and suggested that Jeffco should implement universal screening for students.
“It shouldn’t take an enormous cry for help such as a suicide attempt for people to notice that someone needs help,” she explained. “I played off that I was fine and this is just another example of how EVERY student should be checked in on. Even just a simple, ‘hey how are you?’ could save a life. It provides an opportunity for the student to know someone cares.”
Jeffco Schools needs more mental health staff to support students
We asked how she would improve mental health supports and resources in the district.
She answered that more counselors would be a good start. In addition, she would like to see more psychologists because one per school is not enough.
For example, she told us that the psychologist at her high school, “tries his best, but there are not enough hours in the day for him to help all the students in need. No student should have to wait hours just to talk to a support person.”
Additional training for all educators focused on specific types of crises students encounter would also have helped her, she said.
“I know staff has so much on their plate already, but even just a few hours a semester of additional mental health support training could save a life,” she told us.
Programs, posters, other resources also help
Additional, less expensive resources could make a difference, she said.
“Implementing more programs such as Sources of Strength, setting aside small amounts of classroom time to talk to students about mental health resources, how to help a friend, how to help themselves, even just taking time out of class to watch a three-minute positive video, adding the suicide hotline number to posters, even just adding positive messages to the walls of a school, these are all tiny things that could help lift someone who needs it.”
Her message to the Jeffco community is this: “More students are struggling than you could even comprehend and better mental health support for our schools should be a TOP priority. It doesn’t take that much to save a life. It doesn’t take billions of dollars or hours and hours, It just takes better education and training and a better awareness and understanding of the problems our students today are facing.”
“We don’t expect you to understand, but we do expect you to try to listen to us and try to understand,” she added. “The culture of our schools needs to grow and develop to become a culture where mental health can be talked about and students don’t feel like they have to struggle in silence.”
“We still have lots of work to do,” she said.
We encourage anyone who has any concerns about a student to reach out to Safe2Tell, a statewide resource that allows anyone to anonymously report concerns about students at risk of suicide, cutting, who are being bullied, or who are otherwise threatening to harm themselves or others. Jeffco Schools takes each report seriously and will work to provide appropriate resources.