The Montrose High School counseling staff wants to help students who may be reeling from recent tragedies that happened to their classmates, or who themselves are feeling down.
MHS is holding Hope Week this week, in which the school brings in different groups to talk about suicide prevention, said counselor LeighAnn Mertens. She added the students are perhaps feeling particularly sad, because five classmates lost their lives within the last year.
“We just had a rough summer and suicide is at its highest rate,” Mertens said. “... We want to help those suicidal thoughts go down, especially getting down into these winter months. As a counseling department, we just see it skyrocket more so.”
She said the most important part of this week is to help students find an adult with whom they can connect.
“We want to help the students feel like they’re connected to the high school in some way,” said Mertens.
Montrose County’s suicide rates so far this year have already hit the average yearly total — and victims include more younger people. Thirteen people died by suicide in 2019; four were teens or young adults.
Colorado ranks as having the 10th highest suicide rates in the country, and suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in younger adults. For males 16 - 24, suicide is the leading cause of death, although most suicides occur in men ages 45-65.
Although more females than males attempt suicide, more males are successful, because they are more likely to use firearms.
To combat such concerns for teenagers, the school staff invited Morningstar Therapy Dogs to come in this week; as well, the school is hosting mindfulness in the courtyard, where students can learn some yoga exercises.
Mertens credited the work of PEER Kindness, the local anti-bullying non-profit organization, for helping out this week.
In health class this week, high schoolers are learning about the signs of suicide. And, on Wednesday and Thursday, mindfulness stress lessons will be taught.
There are also affirmation cards on the school walls on which teachers wrote positive details about students. The high schoolers can find a note about them and take it with them, Mertens said. Additionally, students can also write kind things, and post them on a separate wall.
“Those activities are to help those kids know they’re loved and cared for,” she said.
This is the first year the school has offered Hope Week, Mertens said, adding she hopes this can be a regular event.
“We want our kids to feel connected and think about things in their life that are worth living for,” she said.
Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.