AHS staff works hard to help students with mental health issues

ALPENA — Mental health issues are becoming more and more common in schools and Alpena High School staff members want their students to know there always are resources available to them.

Assistant Principal Romeo Bourdage said that during the training before the school year begins, teachers complete a session on what to do to settle down students, how to handle the protocols, what are the proper chains of commands, and who to turn the students over to.

“We put a strong emphasis on training teachers and making sure that they know how to respond,” counselor Lori Vought said.

When a student tells a teacher they are feeling suicidal, the teacher reports to the counselors and they take over. Bourdage and Assistant Principal Stephanie Hitchcock also help take over the situation because they are trained as licensed professional counselors. The school also has Alcona Health Center clinicians who are trained along with a school success worker who is trained at a different level.

“Basically the student comes in and shares that they’re suicidal with a teacher,” Bourdage said. “The teacher’s first move is to understand if it is something they have to deal with or is it something that should go to a counselor.”

Bourdage said the biggest piece is to understand that suicide, especially if the student is talking about it, is not something students should have to take on.

“Teachers need to know the limits they have, like what are the limits on what they need to work with students or when they need to refer help,” he said. “Those are the big things. We have a great counseling team with resources galore to try to help and to figure out where we go from there.”

Vought said AHS has a few suicidal students per week and it seems to be more of a common thing these days.

“Students of this generation deal with more stress,” she said. “There’s more pressures with social media and the things they see. They don’t turn off very often and just don’t have down time as much. They’re constantly seeing what other kids are doing on their phone and they’re seeing instances of cyberbullying or harassment.”

Bourdage said there’s no relaxation time for students because they are in class six hours a day and then go home. Students are facing issues constantly.

“Everything’s right in their front door and there’s no time to compartmentalize anything,” he said. “I think it’s important fof them to know that we’re a resource and there’s so many people at school that are resources to our students.”

Bourdage said students today are dealing with stuff instantaneously. Everything is on their phone or in the media.

“There’s very little processing time,” he said. “Everything is reactionary and they’re moving just fast. There’s no time to sit and reflect.”

Alpena High School has a program called Yellow Ribbon that helps update students through yellow ribbon cards about suicide prevention along with signs displayed around the school. The program started in 1994 to encourage students to seek help with their problems.

“Part of our prevention program is education,” Bourdage said. “I think today we’re educating kids to know that there are resources out there, like talk lines, and a chat line that is available for our students.”

The main thing AHS staff members want students to know is that they are not alone, to know that there are people out there who care about them and there are people out there who want to help them.

“Even if they find themselves going through a particularly rough time that they are other people who have been through the same thing,” Vought said. “There are people to support them and maybe they don’t see that at the moment.”

There are signs in every classroom at the high school with information about how students can reach someone if they are considering self-harm.

“It’s about suicide awareness and part of the prevention is making people aware,” Bourdage said. “In terms of our staff, I think our staff has a really good understanding about what are their limits and what they need to do to tell the counselors right away.”

“We always try to point the students in the direction of hope whether they can find resources or find something within themselves, find the strength and give them the tools and support that they may need so they can solve their own problems with assistance,” Vought said.

Julie Goldberg can be reached via email at jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688.