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Colorado schools learn from comprehensive suicide prevention model developed in California
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This story is part of Lifelines, a Rocky Mountain PBS project focused on youth suicide prevention. This is one segment in a series of stories focused on how communities have responded after experiencing high rates of youth suicide. Find the full Learning Through Loss story here.

PREVIOUS SEGMENT:Colorado Springs students, teachers trained to offer support

If you have an immediate mental health crisis, please call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also chat with the Lifeline.

Insight with John Ferrugia

Colorado schools learn from Palo Alto prevention model


Colorado schools are benefitting from a suicide prevention model developed in Palo Alto.

Jefferson County Public Schools have implemented many mental health resources for students in recent years. The Colorado school district has set out to do more, to stem rising rates of suicide and suicidal crisis among its students.

“It's not just a high school problem any longer. We're seeing it in our middle schools. We're seeing it with girls, not just boys. So we're seeing a trend nationwide, not just in Jefferson County, that's very concerning,” said Michelle Gonzales, the suicide prevention coordinator for Jeffco schools.

The district has launched an ambitious plan to train all 14,000 of its staff members in suicide prevention in the coming years, and has also hosted training for parents and people in the community.

“We are invested in creating a county where everybody is educated and equipped and empowered to know what to do,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales said much of the district’s comprehensive plan for suicide prevention has sprung from a toolkit put together by experts in Palo Alto, California, home of Stanford University.

One of those experts is Dr. Shashank Joshi, a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and education at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Joshi has taken his community’s toolkit on the road, training everywhere from Jeffco to Pakistan to Mexico.

“What I was most impressed with Jeffco about was, they were not hiding from this.

They fully embraced, we're doing a lot, but we could do more. Let's bring in people who've had experience in their communities and see if we can learn from one another,” Joshi said.

The experience in Dr. Joshi’s community of Palo Alto has been one of learning through loss. The community experienced two clusters of youth suicide deaths in less than ten years, prompting experts to develop strategies for schools to use for prevention.

The toolkit has three main areas of emphasis: promoting mental health and wellness, intervention when students are in crisis, and postvention - the response after a suicide loss.

“The idea [is] you would increase the versatility of the classroom teachers, not to become therapists, but just to have more tools in their box. So that if they're concerned about a student they would not be concerned or afraid to open the door to a conversation to try to find out what that young person might be struggling with,” Joshi said.

Dr. Joshi and his collaborators supported legislation that requires schools in the state of California to have a suicide prevention plan. The toolkit is used to train school staff, as part of those prevention plans.

This was the culmination of a number of organizations, grassroots organizations, really identifying the need to provide this kind of education to young people so that they could start to learn about mental health and what happens when people are not mentally healthy,” Joshi said.

NEXT SEGMENT: Youth helping to design pilot model for mental health and wellness