The Los Alamos Public School Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to implement the recommendations of the LAPS Mental Health Design Team.
Speaking to a full house at the meeting, a stunning report by the LAPS Mental Health Design Team initiated their presentation by expressing how, “A health community is not one without problems. A health community has problems and mobilizes resources to navigate through them.”
The team shed light on compelling community data including the number of Emergency Room visits for suicidal ideation. In comparison, the rate of visits is up to four times greater in Los Alamos than the national average. Studies indicate that between 7 percent and 10 percent of people who go to ERs for suicidal ideation/attempts will complete a suicide in the following two decades.
The School Board directed Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus to oversee an extensive review of the state of mental health for Los Alamos Public Schools. Steinhaus appointed a seven member Mental Health Design Team in August to investigate this issue. With more than 600 hours of work, the team diligently accessed the community for information through:
• More than 3,740 public survey responses to three surveys including 1,337 teen responses;
• Nine Focus Groups of students and behavioral health professionals; and
• Review and analysis of community data points.
The teen data self reported extensive stress particularly around homework load, academic pressure by parents and being excessively tired. More than 500 LAHS students and more than 200 LAMS students identified themselves or a friend as experiencing anxiety, plus hundreds of teens reported depression, self harming behaviors, suicidal ideation and addictive behaviors.
Dr. Marvel Harrison described to the board the common progression of how anxiety can become depression and may lead to self harming behaviors and possible suicidal ideation and how often addiction sets in since, “Using alcohol or other drugs may be less about the desire to get high than the inability to be low.”
Gaps in mental health services were extensively reviewed by the team with categories in Cultural, Programs, Information, Support Groups, Curriculum, Community Services, Data, LAPS Services and Training.
The team presented the following specific action items for the community and LAPS inviting various partners for each task from LA County, JJAB, LANL, LAMC, Family Council, FSN, LAPS Foundation and 100 Women Who Care:
- Community Presentations and Conversations beginning with a Community Leadership Breakfast Jan. 7, 2016 followed by Public Town Hall meeting Feb. 4, 2016.
- Community Mental Health Exploratory Team led by Dr. Steinhaus to research how communities like Fairfax, Va., and Palo Alto, Calif. with similar struggles reached out to the CDC for support and direction.
- District Website Design Task Group to coordinate resources and access for students and community via the website and the possibility of a mobile app.
- Systems Approach in Mental Health Task Group for Alignment of LAPS school counselors, confidentiality and professional development and addressing gaps in LAPS services.
- Student Stress/Anxiety Reduction Action Team including a Homework Task Group and Youth Mental Health First Aide Training Pilot
- Suicide Prevention Action Team.
Community Conversations about tough topics or depression, suicidality, self medication strategies and building emotionally intelligent schools.
The LAPS School Board tasked with using a Behavioral Health lens to view the development of all future policies and program mandates.
Public comment followed the presentation including appreciation for the endeavor by United Way Executive Director Kristy Ortega who reinforced the need and willingness to cooperate on behavioral health endeavors and local Pediatric Psychiatrist Brian Haigh described the shocking severity of his patient load compared to his colleagues in Albuquerque and the high numbers of suicidal patients he sees.
The most compelling and meaningful comments came from Jennifer Hayden with her husband David at her side who courageously said, “I want to give a face to all this information. We lost our son two years ago to suicide and I don’t want any other family to experience this pain. Thank you for giving a voice to this problem since I cannot, mine is broken.”
Drawing by a 6th grader. Courtesy/LAPS
The Design Team called for a “cultural shift” in the acceptance and understanding of mental health issues, the willingness to collaborate and an invitation to the community to participate in gaining the highest well being for our children.
Members of the Design Team include Ellen Ben Naim (JJAB), Cindy Black (School Counselor), William “Bill” Hargraves (School Board), Marvel Harrison, PhD (Community Professional), Diane Katzenmeyer-Delgado (Assistant Superintendent) and Michelangelo Lobato (Chamisa Elementary School Counselor).
For access to the presentation and all data collection, visit the LAPS website after Jan. 8, 2016.