In response to requests from families from across the Bellevue community, the Family Engagement office, in partnership with the district Mental Health Assistance Team, provided families with an additional opportunity to support the well-being of their students. As a part of the Community Mental Health Forum series, families were invited to learn more about the Signs of Suicide (SOS) during an in-person session on December 8, 2021. Language-specific sessions run by Spanish-speaking and Mandarin-speaking MHAT counselors were also available for families. Families who chose to attend the live presentation were able to discuss in-depth questions about depression, suicide, and mental health with district counseling staff.
SOS is an evidence-based youth suicide prevention program that teaches students how to identify signs of depression and suicide in themselves and others. The goal of the program is to decrease suicide and suicide attempts by increasing knowledge and changing attitudes about depression, suicide, and mental health. In addition, SOS provides materials that support families and communities to recognize at-risk students and take appropriate action.
Ongoing series offers families support for student mental health and well-being
In the winter of 2020, as communities everywhere began the pandemic lockdown, weeks of remote learning for Bellevue students turned into months. District counselors, administrators and teachers immediately began to ring the alarm that student mental health would soon grow to be a crisis. The isolation, uncertainty, anxiety, fear and loneliness that students experienced gave rise to the need to provide families and caregivers the tools to support student well-being.
Bellevue School District responded to this need by creating the BSD Community Mental Health Forums (CMHF). In unprecedented partnership, the district family engagement team, counseling department, social-emotional curriculum developers, and a host of community mental health agencies developed and implemented a mental health series to inform families on ways to support well-being and the steps to take if a family suspected a serious mental health concern for their student. Funding for several district initiatives came through the Bellevue Schools Foundation. Their program to support mental health and Signs of Suicide, allowed for the continual expansion of mental health supports.
“Adolescence can be really hard — throw in a pandemic and social isolation and you ramp up to a full mental health crisis for many students. This last school year, 40% of middle and high school students who participated in Bellevue’s Mental Health Assistance Team (MHAT) mental health screening indicated concerns for anxiety or depression, and 17% reported thoughts of self-harm.” –
Well-being supports for each and every student
The district wondered whether the CMHFs were equitably reaching all families. The information shared through the forums were of vital importance, but did all district families have access to the same information? By leveraging the diversity of multilingual district staff, counselors and community agencies that seek to serve families in a culturally responsive manner, the district began to hold additional CMHFs wholly in Spanish and Mandarin to better serve the needs of individual communities.
Growing and expanding to better inform, support and empower families
At the start of the 2020-21 school year, the district welcomed a new Director of Counseling, Kerince Bowen. Under Bowen’s stewardship, the CMHF sessions grew into an equitable virtual series that addressed the topics of greatest concern as identified by the community. Forums were held each month on topics ranging from anxiety, depression and suicide, to motivation and resilience.
Community and district partnerships played an essential role in supporting student well-being. Youth Eastside Services, a community partner that provides the district with dually-licensed mental health and substance use counselors, shared their expertise through the series. Additional support and language specific services were provided by Asian Counseling and Referral Service (https://acrs.org/ ).
“Community partners are vital to extend the reach for mental health support and ensure the BSD can serve each and every student.” – Kerince Bowen, Director of Counseling
BSD stays at the forefront of addressing student well-being
Student well-being has garnered national news, and in a recent report, the US Surgeon General warned of a youth mental health crisis. BSD has been at the forefront of addressing well-being issues through the CMHF series. Twenty community sessions have been held to date, and additional sessions are scheduled for the upcoming semester. Nearly all CMHF sessions are available wholly in both Spanish and Mandarin. Recordings are available on-demand as resources for families on the district’s Family Wellness Forums webpage.