Helping the whole child
Suicide typically doesn’t occur in isolation. Other factors are usually present such as access to weapons, engaging in unprotected sex, clinical depression, bullying, tobacco use and drinking alcohol.
“Everybody won’t have all of them. But if you have one, you’re likely to have more,” says David A. Brent, MD, academic chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
So when families, schools or clinicians see risk-taking behaviors in youths, behaviors that could lead to suicide, approaching the whole child is critical. “That can be potentially life threatening,” warns Brent of a singular or silo approach to treating a child with multiple risk factors. “The question is how to help the whole kid without overwhelming the clinician, school or family.”
Brent sees school-based health clinics as a step in the right direction. These centers provide physical and mental health services to children in need of care—and at locations accessible to them. Their numbers have grown to nearly 1500 in the 2001/2002 school year, according to 2003 data released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“School-based clinics, something between student counseling and intensive clinics, are good. A place where kids get help on campus and wouldn’t have to go to another facility,” notes Brent. “They are a lot more beneficial because students can be referred internally, meaning low hassle and earlier intervention. For those at-risk kids who aren’t in school but in correctional facilities, it’s the same model: it’s integrating mental health care in some place where the kids already are.”