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SJSD looks to tackle mental health issues, provide support

St. Joseph News-Press - 9/1/2023

Sep. 1—Recent statistics are showing a rise in suicides across the U.S., but many in the St. Joseph School District are looking to combat the issue head-on at the local level.

In 2021, there were 1,117 people that died by suicide in Missouri, according to a KFF study. This number included 983 males and 194 females.

The study also found that per 100,000 people, there were 18.7 people that died by suicide in Missouri in 2021. The number is higher than the national average in the United States, which sits at 14.1 people per 100,000.

The St. Joseph School District is tackling these challenges with kids at a young age.

Amy Mears, a social worker at Benton High School, said that counseling staffs within the district are trained to combat mental health issues such as anxiety and to deescalate suicidal situations.

One of the ways Benton is doing so is establishing quiet rooms throughout the building to offer kids more opportunities to destress. One of the main reasons for creating these rooms is the fallout from COVID-19 and social isolation through use of technology.

"People have difficulty doing hand-eye coordination. They have difficulty having conversations with real people, with intonation and words and expressions. It's texting, it's social media, it's emailing ... it's really kind of a big monster to have to deal with," Mears said. "It causes emotional highs and lows that we wouldn't normally be dealing with. Expectations are high. People just say and do awful things when they don't have to face to the person they're saying it to and it seems to be worse and worse all the time."

Mears said for young kids, parents and peer students can look out for many warning signs, including mood swings, changes in sleep and social isolation. There are other signs that may not be as recognizable as others.

"Giving away prized possessions ... things that mean a lot to them, maybe giving something to their best friend that they would never, ever consider giving away before," Mears said.

She said another change to look for is mood swings, which could impact the thought processes around suicide.

"Being sad, somnolent and then all of a sudden being happy and chipper, as if that decision has been made and they're now at peace with the situation," Mears said. "Lots of times that tells people are they're doing better when actually that's been a pinnacle change in their thought process."

Mears encourages both parents and students to be proactive in getting help. Reaching out is the best thing that anyone can do, Mears said.

"Don't shove it under the rug. Don't be embarrassed about it. Lots of times, kids just don't know how to ask for what they need because they're not ever taught," Mears said. "Parents and teachers and school counselors and all the people involved in their lives, they're not born knowing those things, we have to teach them. We forget as they get older and into high school, they should know those things, but sometimes they don't."

Riley Funk can be reached at


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