MICHIGAN (WJMN) – A partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA) and Michigan Virtual was formed to address the rates of adolescent suicide.

The partnership was formed to provide guidance, resources and supports that can be quickly deployed to schools and communities. Shannon Carney Oleksyk, senior health analyst at BCBS of Michigan, says they are very concerned that suicide is the leading cause of death in adolescents and that they know schools are in need of resources.

“There are five courses for school and community leaders that are free of charge and hosted on the Michigan Virtual website,” said Carney Oleksyk. “These courses offer guidance, resources, and other supports that schools can quickly use to address suicide prevention in their school community, it helps schools develop a comprehensive suicide prevention plan and also directs them to other evidence-based resources and best practices that they can consider implementing in their school building.”

Carney Oleksyk says one important thing for school leaders to realize is that the increase in self-harm and suicide in youth has increased significantly since 2020. Reports of self-harm and suicide among youth increased in 2020. Blue Cross data shows that suicide attempts increased 45% among 10 to 14-year-olds and 20% among 15 to 18-year olds.

“That to me as a health professional and as a parent is incredibly alarming,” said Carney Oleksyk. “We want people to realize that this is an issue that is affecting our youth all across the state, it’s something that we really need to focus in on and address.”

The new suicide prevention initiative offers a series of five online courses on adolescent suicide prevention for educators, student leaders, health professionals, parent-teacher organizations and community members.

“Blue Cross is pleased to partner with Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association and Michigan Virtual to bring these resources to schools and communities across Michigan to reduce the risk for adolescent suicide,” said Ken Hayward, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan vice president and special assistant to the president for Community Relations. “This opportunity provides schools and communities with critical information and interactive experiences to help educators review their policies and practices, problem solve, facilitate a peer-to-peer support program and develop a comprehensive suicide prevention plan. Mental health and well-being are an important part of healthier school environments.”

The courses were developed with subject matter experts from the Yale School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry. School administration and staff can learn to identify students who are at risk of suicidal ideation, suicidal gestures or completed suicide and offer action steps to prevent and address these serious concerns.

Another course supports community members by helping them to raise awareness on the issue, reduce the stigma of mental health and counseling and provide strategies for helping others feel an important sense of connection and caring.

Students will also be empowered through the initiative with learning leadership skills to become student ambassadors. Student ambassadors can play a critical role by supporting their peers and helping them connect with resources and support when needed.

“The Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association is pleased to be a partner in an effort to
provide resources and guidance for schools for suicide prevention and intervention,” said Paul Liabenow, executive director of MEMSPA. “We have seen a dramatic increase in attempted and completed youth suicides across the state and in local communities. Our hope is that we raise awareness, increase school staff training and community support to help save student lives. We must make suicide prevention a top priority, it is our moral imperative.”

According to a 2020 survey from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 56% of high school and college students said they were “moderately,” “very” or “extremely” worried about their mental health in regard to how they were coping with the pandemic. Half of all students reported experiencing anxiety, one third reported depression and almost a quarter said they knew of someone who had experienced suicidal thoughts since the beginning of the pandemic. The study also found 76% of students who sought counseling from their school found it helpful.

“With suicide being the second-highest leading cause of death among adolescents, it’s vital we address this issue head on,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Michigan Virtual. “With the added stress brought about by the pandemic, these courses provide teachers and staff the tools to work with students on a difficult issue. We hope schools across Michigan can put these valuable resources to great use.”

The online courses are provided at no cost. Teachers and administrators can earn State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCECH) for professional development credit, a certificate and micro-credential. A School Administrator’s Guide is provided to help administrators facilitate learning and discussion within their school and district. School leadership, teaching and support staff, administrative staff and other members of school communities working with students grades 5 and up are encouraged to enroll in one or all of the courses which can be found online.