Following the suicide deaths of several students at Flathead and Glacier High Schools, Kalispell Public Schools, counselors, psychologists and social workers are available to meet with students or put them in touch with other services.
If additional mental health professionals or assistance is needed, the Flathead Valley Rapid Response Team is available to schools. The team is a network of school counselors across the county who can help schools assess immediate needs following a traumatic event or crisis.
Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill said parents who feel their child is struggling should contact teachers, administrators or counselors so they know a specific student needs support.
Communicating with families about the death of a most recent student, Hill emailed a letter to families last week offering his condolences, sharing the district’s response to the tragedies and its continued commitment to support students with help from community partners: The Nate Chute Foundation, Tamarack Grief Resource Center, Logan Health, Flathead City-County Health Department, law enforcement and local clergy, in addition to the Suicide Task Force from Kalispell Public Schools.
âAfter a suicide we end up with a complex mix of painful emotions and unanswered questions that are exceptionally difficult to understand,â Hill said in her letter. âAs our school community grapples with these tragedies, please know that there are currently many resources in place to provide guidance and support to all of our students and staff. We encourage you to talk openly and honestly with your child about these situations.
âIf you feel your child is having difficulty, please do not hesitate to contact a teacher, principal or counselor so that we can specifically support your student,â Hill wrote. âKPS is committed to doing everything possible to help our students and staff through these difficult experiences. “
HILL SAYS the district has been approached by people eager to help, including suicide survivors. Although appreciated, the district has put strategies in place.
âPlease understand that the approaches and strategies implemented by our district are supported by experts in the field and supported by suicide prevention research,â said Hill. âSome of the actions and ideas proposed may actually be more damaging and undermine other efforts in place. We work with a team of community resources to ensure our decisions are deliberate, thoughtful and respectful of our families.
âI don’t think our community is very aware of what we are doing and have in place,â Hill said in a telephone interview with the Daily Inter Lake on Tuesday. âWe have a Kalispell Public School Suicide Task Force and have been for several years. We train our staff on the signs of suicide. We have a mental health awareness program that we teach in middle and high school. There are restorative groups – morning meetings where students check in at the elementary level. We print the suicide hotline on the back of student ID cards, âHill said. âWe are also working to communicate with students about resilience.
âThe list goes on for everything we do from a preventive standpoint.
âIt’s tough,â Hill said. “When you lose a student, a young person to suicide, the question is whether the schools are doing enough, or doing more, and it’s always difficult.”
SUICIDE cluster is uncharted territory for schools and some organizations that work with young people.
âGenerally speaking, we haven’t really had to deal with this from a school community perspective at the level we’re dealing with now,â Hill said.
Going forward, the district will pilot a student assistance program, which includes the formation of adult-led peer support groups. Bigfork and Whitefish school districts both have similar programs with peer support groups. Groups serve as a safe space to talk about non-academic concerns such as bereavement and loss, family and relationship issues, substance use, bullying, or other issues with which students are struggling in everyday life.
Kalispell Public Schools, in coordination with the Nate Chute Foundation, will invite Dr. Scott Polan to talk about suicide and hold trainings for high school and middle school staff, local medical providers and the community from September 27-29. Times and locations are to be determined.
Polan is a registered psychologist and national expert on youth suicide, self-harm, bullying and school crisis prevention. He is co-author of the Montana Crisis Action School Toolkit on Suicide, available on the Bureau of Public Education website. Poland is also Co-Director of the Office of Suicide and Violence Prevention at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
Journalist Hilary Matheson can be reached at 758-4431 or by email at [email protected]
Help is available
If you’re feeling suicidal, talk to someone. Help is available.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the TrevorLifeline for LGBTQ + people at 1-866-488-7386.
Text “start” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or Trevor Lifeline at 678-678.
If you don’t like to use the phone or can’t access it, connect to Lifeline Crisis Chat at Crisischat.org or TrevorLifeline Chat at www.thetrevorproject.org.