HOLLAND, Mich. - Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teens in the United States, but it's also a local issue. According to the Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey, 20% of teens seriously thought about suicide in the last year, 15% have made a suicide plan and 8% attempted suicide one or more times.
However, Holland Hospital is making an effort to help students in Holland Public Schools. For the 2019-20 school year, Holland Hospital will be implementing a school mental health program.
The program seeks to address the mental health issues teens face, and to help, a nurse from Holland Hospital will transition into the role of School Mental Health Care Manager (SMHCM). They will serve students and families by coordinating services throughout the continuum of care to improve quality and reduce avoidable admissions/re-admissions.
"The program is designed to address and ideally resolve the mental health issues our children face so they can grow into healthy, stable and productive adults," said Hendrina Cupery, a school nurse with Holland Hospital.
Last fall, the hospital decided they wanted to address a mental health crisis in the community, and Colleen Perdok, a coordinator for the Holland Hospital Fund Development, said they found some alarming statistics.
"Fifty percent of the behavioral health patients at Holland Hospital are kids ranging from ages 11 to 17," Perdok said. "It hit us pretty hard, so we met with the school nurse program and Holland Public Schools, and there was a strong connection."
According to the hospital, Holland High and Middle Schools each perform about 50 suicide risk assessments. Students who express suicidal thoughts to their friends or staff are immediately screened by two professionals -- a counselor and/or social worker.
The results of these evaluations are shared with the student's parents to determine the next steps of therapy or hospitalization. However, many parents don't stay in follow-up communication with school staff, so at-risk students can and do fall through the cracks.
"The parents are informed and brought in, and every case is different," said Cupery. "A lot of times, the communication between the school and the family isn't there. Sometimes there are a lot of barriers to overcome and things a family would have to navigate on their own."
There are times when a student will come to the nurse's office with complaints of common ailments -- an upset stomach, a headache or fatigue -- but being able to sit down and talk with them is one of the most important pieces to the process.
"By the time you talk to them, it has something to do with what's going on in their life," Cupery said.
After meeting with middle and high school counselors, the hospital found they needed someone who was able to communicate with students, parents, schools and navigate the health system. Because they have the infrastructure in place with school nurses, who already take care of students, it was a simple transition to create the SMHCM position.
Perdok said there won't be a duplication of services between the nurse and the SMHCM, but the SMHCM will be a place for students, families and schools to communicate about mental health issues. Most importantly, the SMHCM will help students get the care they need for their mental health.
"Sometimes over-communication is better so everyone is on the same page about what's best for your child," Perdok said. "We're doing this together and we want parents to know that we're working with them."
To fund the program, Holland Hospital Fund Development has secured a $70,000 grant over the course of three years from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland area, as well as a $3,000 donation from Lake Michigan Credit Union's Band Together for Kids' Health Campaign and a generous donation from the Julie & Kirk Cousins Foundation.
The program is a pilot at HPS, and Perdok said this will allow the hospital and the district to gather data before figuring out where the program will go.
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