After a year-long examination of available resources, a team of those on the front lines of Loudoun’s mental health challenges has laid out a new strategy to combat the rise in teen suicides.
Its conclusion: Suicide prevention requires a community-wide approach.
The school system has stepped up mental health programs with the hiring of more counselors and increased training. But the challenge cannot be met by the schools alone. Nor by the various charitable organizations that have formed in recent years to address the concerns.
Instead, the county’s mental health staff and members of the Community Services Board recommend shifting the responsibility of promoting awareness and prevention of youth suicide from the schools to the larger community—engaging parents, care takers, the faith-based community, pediatricians, youth organizations, sports groups and others.
Also, the emphasis needs to move beyond efforts to prevent suicide and to be placed on more broadly promoting youth health, well-being and resilience, the panel recommended.
Perhaps the most important element of the work was the acknowledgement of parents’ frustration when trying to find support services to help address mental health concerns before they reach the crisis stage. When help is needed most, too often it seems that there is nowhere to turn.
While there is a perception—if not a reality—that there are too few treatment options readily available, the panel concluded that concern could be addressed through improved communication and coordination. The recommendation of a searchable comprehensive database of family support resources may narrow that gap; it also may help identify the gaps.
Great strides have been made by school leaders, government agencies and nonprofits in recent years, but their work will be even more effective if used in coordination with other available resources. That is the next step in building a stronger safety net.