The Hechinger Report: When kids pick their ‘trusted adult,’ it pays off

While mental health professionals in schools can provide individual or group counseling, the district has contracted with two medical institutions Aurora Mental Health and HealthONE to provide free mental health support to students who need more individualized, intensive support. Credit: Sara Hertwig for The Hechinger Report

Story excerpt:

All student names were changed to protect their identities.

"When 12-year-old Jayla heard a friend had died by suicide during the pandemic, she was terribly upset. The loss was bad enough, but Jayla carried an extra weight. 

'He told me he was having a bad day earlier that week and I didn’t ask him why. I told myself it was my fault because if I wasn’t so fixated on myself and if I would have called him to check up on him, he would still be here,' she said. She was in a 'bad place.' 

While no one person or factor causes suicide, guilt is a common reaction among family and friends, experts say.

After her friend’s death, Jayla began having anxiety attacks and found her thoughts spiraling out of control. And she couldn’t really turn to anyone at home. 'My mom works a lot and my dad really isn’t around, so I really don’t have somebody to talk to. And I don’t want to stress my grandma, she’s too old to worry about what I’m doing.' 

She said having someone at school who could help was 'really, really important.' And she knew exactly whom to turn to. 

Jayla goes to Columbia Middle School in Aurora, Colorado, a school that doesn’t just have one counselor on hand, but a full mental health team — plus teachers who have received training in how to respond to mental health issues. The school also offers an array of specialized online programs and curricula at every grade level. These supports were paid for with funding the community had approved for such programs, even before the pandemic made children’s mental health a top national concern."