Suffolk Public Schools put focus on student mental health with new initiative

SUFFOLK, Va. - Suffolk Public Schools are tackling the issue of teen depression head-on.

The school division is partnering with the Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation to put a focus on mental well-being and to enhance support for students struggling with behavioral health issues.

As part of the program, all tenth-graders in the division will view a video called "More than Sad: Teen Depression" in the next month to help challenge the stigma of depression.

"People think that depression is just being sad and it's not being sad," said Suzanne Rice, Asst. Superintendent for Student Services.

Rice says the idea for the new mental health curriculum came in response to a growing number of students suffering from mental health issues.

"Threat assessments take place in our school when students threaten to harm themselves or others and that for a fact has increased," she said. "I do see it on a weekly basis even on the elementary level where kids are threatening to harm or kill themselves."

Thursday night, the school division hosted the first of three community presentations on the topic of mental health, anxiety and depression inside the King's For High School auditorium; an adult discussion with a focus on suicide prevention where adults could view the same video students are watching.

"We need to not be afraid to speak about suicide directly to people that concern us. When we see warning signs, we need to proceed to have a safe conversation," said Michelle Peterson, who founded the Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation after her daughter, Sarah, died of suicide at 15 years old.

The hope is this new curriculum will allow help to get to students before tragedy strikes, whether it's their parents, a teacher or a counselor.

"A lot of times adults don't know what to say or what to look for and I think this is gonna help," said Rice.

The next two meetings are Thursday, March 1 at Nansemond River High School at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, March 14 at Lakeland High School at 6:30 p.m.