More than 500 students express suicidal thoughts; Rock Hill Schools dives in to help

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Rock Hill Schools have concerning new numbers that show the mental health struggles kids are facing.

The district said since August 2021, more than 500 students have expressed suicidal thoughts and most of those students are in elementary school.

Kati Durkee works with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Rock Hill, an organization that helps steer others away from taking their own lives.

“We know that 17% of high school students are thinking suicidal thoughts.” Durkee said. “It is the second cause of death from children.”

She has a personal connection to her work.

“I lost my brother in 2008, he ended his life and I also lost my father-in-law in 2019, he also ended his life. So, that is a big impact for me,” she said.

Durkee said some of the youngest people in our area need help. Rock Hill Schools has created a new department to address mental health concerns, which have soared since the pandemic. The district now gives what’s called a “Risk to Self Assessment” to students who talk about or demonstrate that they want to kill themselves or die.

Since last August, it’s given 529 of those assessments. Most of the students -- 258 of them to be exact -- were elementary school students. 143 were middle school students and 128 were in high school.

In the last two months, leaders said two middle school students attempted to actively harm themselves while at school.

“Every adult and teacher has been trained in suicide awareness,” said Dr. Nancy Turner, Rock Hill’s new director of mental health. “As a student may make a comment, or a parent calls and says, ‘I heard this at home’ -- we take this seriously.”

Dr. Turner said the district has added extra personnel at every school to connect with students in need, but she and Durkee said they need help from parents.

“Did the student quit their favorite activity? Maybe they were a cheerleader, or on the football team and say they don’t want to do it anymore,” Turner said. “Are they isolated when normally they would be with their friends?”

“Listen to your kids, listen to what they are saying, and reach out to people like me,” Durkee said.

Officials said some students’ actions suggest they want to harm themselves while some young people will outright say it. These signs should be taken seriously.

Rock Hill Schools has set up a mental health hotline for parents, students, community members, and anyone who needs help. You can call 803-324-7464.

For a comprehensive guide to mental health resources that are available in the 22 counties in Channel 9′s viewing area, click here.

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