AUSTIN (KXAN) — A survey administered to students in seventh, ninth and 11th grades across Lake Travis Independent School District showed they feel more stressed and contemplate suicide and self-harm more than other students nationally.
Lake Travis ISD administered the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behaviors Survey to more than 1,400 students last year.
Results were recently presented to the school board, pointing out that 773 of the students surveyed said they feel the stress of school is “too much.” School administrators also say 171 students said they considered committing suicide in the past year, and 80 of those 171 students had actually attempted suicide.
“That was alarming to us,” said Kathleen Hassenfratz, LTISD Health and Social Programs coordinator.
Hassenfratz is working with counselors districtwide on an action plan to curb student stress and thoughts about suicide and self-harm.
During a teacher conference this week, workshops taught LTISD teachers to look for signs that may point to a student in crisis.
“We offered several sessions on youth mental health first aid,” Hassenfratz said, “And that is allowing teachers to be the eyes and ears for us, so that if they see some signs, some things that are changing in a kid, to not wait, to either already have built the relationship with that kiddo to approach them privately, or potentially to go to the counselor’s office or make a phone call home.”
Hassenfratz says teachers are being trained to watch for drops in attendance and grades, changes in appearance, changes in friend groups, changes in attitude, signs of drug or alcohol abuse and even changes in eating habits.
At Lake Travis High School, she says, staff identifies students who may be at-risk, and designate teachers who are closest to those students to check in on them and keep a closer eye on them.
“It allows that young person to see someone noticed, someone cares,” Hassenfratz said.
Hudson Bend Middle School counselor Sonja Ferguson says issues with student stress and self-harm often begin earlier than high school, however.
In her school of about 1,170 sixth through eighth graders, she says she responds to student suicide concerns “up to once a week at this point, sometimes more, which is very scary.”
Ferguson says at Hudson Bend, as soon as a child shows signs that they could hurt themself or others, teachers put together an action plan.
Part of the plan, she says is, “Monitoring that student as far as where they are on campus between classes or leaving the classroom for a certain amount of time, just so that we know where they are and that they’re OK at all times.”
She also reports any suicidal tendencies to parents and works with them not only to get their child psychiatric help, but to create a safe environment at home.
“We will have parental portions of that action plan too,” Ferguson said. “How are we keeping the child safe at home? What are we doing to remove any kind of dangerous items in the home that the student has maybe mentioned as a part of a potential plan that they have to hurt themselves?”
Ferguson says if the threat is serious enough, she contacts and works with the district’s school resource officers, too.
Lake Travis ISD has also set up an anonymous reporting site, called the Cavs Who Care Tip Line. Students and parents are encouraged to use it to report any unusual behavior, bullying or suspicious posts on social media. School officials say they get two to three tips a day from the site.