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“We are seeing an increasing number of suicides. We have one district [in Missouri] that has thus far this year had six adolescent suicides. It’s just devastating in that small school district. More and more school districts are having to grapple with this issue,” says Weston. How to respond to this problem involves some controversy about which is the best approach to suicide prevention. The Center has recently developed an online course on suicide prevention. They have also undertaken research with school leaders to understand their perceptions on suicide prevention. As Weston explains, “some people think if you talk about it in the schools that’s going to make kids more likely to attempt suicide, which is not true. It’s a huge misunderstanding that’s out there. There are some prevention programs that promote screening of kids to see whether they’re potentially at risk for harming themselves, and that’s highly controversial.” Naturally, suicide prevention relates to the Center’s work in schools as well, “because we want kids to have good coping skills so that they’re not thinking about taking their own lives.”
At the first and only sanctioned online-degree program with a focus on mental health issues in schools in the country, students can take individual courses based on their unique needs through continuing education, and even earn a degree at the Masters or Education Specialist level. Recognized as a national model, the Center’s online program focuses on evidence-based practice and on current, practical application-driven principles and tested theories; people working in the field can take coursework in areas with which they are being confronted professionally.
The Center has been working with the School of Nursing and the College of Education at MU to provide mental health training for nurses, teachers, principals, and school counselors. Thanks to the collaboration with Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Health, the national centers on mental health, and other federal agencies, they have been able to do outreach, sharing, collaboration, and program development. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to surmount some of these issues,” Koller remarks. “Without that collaboration, we would not be where we are today.”