School counselor Tracy Clementsworks in Neosho, Missouri, a town with small school district dealing with a big suicide problem.
“Between 2014 and 2018, our suicide rates were many, many the national average,” Clements said.
Since the pandemic started, Clements says three students have attempted suicide and she’s concerned that self-isolation and being away from the classroom could trigger even more.
“This is something nobody has ever experienced,” she said. “This is pushing our problem-solving skills to the limit and it’s forced all educators to step outside of their box and do things differently.”
That new way of working to protect students includes Beacon, new software from the company GoGuardian. This technology alerts mental health experts when students search online for ways to harm themselves.
“When kids aren’t able to be with other kids, it sucks. It seems to be one of the things that is increasing suicide risk in youth,” said Jonathan Singer, the president of the American Association of Suicidology.
Singer says more students have been hospitalized for suicide risk during the COVID-19 crisis than compared to the same time a year earlier. He believes there are lessons that need to be applied moving forward.
“We’ve learned that we need to be able to have suicide prevention online, but also we need not make schools be the one-stop shop for suicide prevention,” he said.
While Singer supports Beacon as a suicide prevention tool, he says it needs to be used to be improved, things they’re working on at GoGuardian.
“I don’t think there’s one perfect answer for on how to perfectly prevent this from ever happening,” said Ellen Yan, general manager for the Beacon division at GoGuardian.
Yansays more schools have started using this technology since it was released in 2019 and that she expects even more to add this to their suicide prevention plans post pandemic.
“We want to be here for our schools especially into 2021 and the new normal whatever that might look like,” she said.
In Neosho, Missouri, school leaders say the Beacon system has helped identify students who are silently struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“It is amazing,” Clements said. “I’ve actually stopped counting how many lives it has saved with our children.”
Clements says even after pandemic is over, other problems will pop up. Moving forward, she believes this technology should be part of the solution for this nationwide problem.
“I don’t know what the next great crisis will be, but I want to prepare our students to be to handle whatever crisis comes their way,” she said.