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As Teen Suicide Rates Go Up, Pittsburgh-Area District Responds By Hiring Full-Time Therapists

Ryan Melaugh
Keystone Oaks School District has hired two full-time therapists as the district, and country as a whole have seen an uptick in teen suicide rates.

A new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month shows the suicide rate among females aged 15 to 19 hit a 40-year high in 2015.

The new data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics finds suicide rates doubled for females and rose by more than 30 percent for boys in the same age group between 2007 and 2015. 

The Keystone Oaks School District, just outside of Pittsburgh, has seen an increase in students needing mental health services over roughly that same period, according to Suzanne Lochie, the District’s Supervisor of Pupil Services. 

“We certainly have seen an increase in the mental health needs of our students over the last few years,” she said. “We have had school-based mental health therapists in our district for about 15 years. However, last year we decided to, instead of contracting with an agency, hire our own therapists so that we could have more time to provide the students with support services.”

The district has two licensed therapists. One who works with children at the elementary level and another assigned to the middle and high schools.

A 2014 State Law called Act 71 requires Pennsylvania schools to adopt youth suicide and prevention policies. Keystone Oaks determined bringing on full-time, mental health professionals was the way to go.

“Providing individual therapy to students,” Lochie said, “they are very knowledgeable about mental health issues and they provide different consultation services with the staff. They provide presentations to parents about different mental health topics including anxiety and depression.”

Lochie said the district has seen a rise in recent years of more families struggling financially and more reports of child abuse.

“Previously we had about 20 reports to Childline,” she said. “The next year we had about 40. Last year, we had about 87 different reports. They’re not all investigated but certainly, there have been a lot of red flags for us here.”

According to the CDC, suicide is second only to accidents as the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. One resource is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

(Photo Credit: Ryan Melaugh/Flickr)