Six Johnson County school districts teaming up to address growing teen suicide rate

Signs with encouraging messages lined the entrance to Shawnee Mission Northwest after the school had two students commit suicide earlier this year.

As Johnson County educators get ready for the new school to begin, the superintendents of six school districts here have announced a new initiative to address growing concerns about teen suicide in the area.

Under the initiative, the superintendents of the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley, Olathe, Spring Hill, DeSoto and Gardner-Edgerton school districts will meet once a month to discuss best practices for preventing and addressing teen suicide.

The initiative comes after a 2017-18 school year that saw schools across the county coping with the loss of students who had taken their own lives, including schools in Shawnee Mission. In January, SM Northwest lost two students to suicide in the course of a week. In March, an Indian Hills Middle School student committed suicide.

The wave of suicides prompted Johnson County Mental Health officials to raise the alarm, saying that the pervasiveness of bullying appeared to be a contributing factor to anxiety and depression for many young people today. According to Johnson County Mental Health statistics, the rate of teen suicides in the county nearly doubled in the first six months of 2018.

At a kick-off meeting for the new initiative in June, leaders from the six districts met with community leaders from local churches and businesses to discuss the issue. According to the group, they sought to explore three main questions:

  • Why is there a rising number of teenagers experiencing mental health issues and choosing death by suicide?
  • How can school districts and community partners collaborate to multiply the impact of our work?
  • What strategies or action plans can we deploy to stop teen suicide and mitigate mental health concerns?

“As a community, we must all work together and address suicide head-on for the benefit of our children,” said Shawnee Mission Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick. “The mental health of our students is a top priority.”