Cases of Suicidal Behavior among LAUSD Students on the Rise, District Reports

By Janofsky, Michael | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), November 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

Cases of Suicidal Behavior among LAUSD Students on the Rise, District Reports


Janofsky, Michael, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


Pia Escudero, L.A. Unified's director of School Mental Health Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. Photo Courtesy of EdSource

More than 5,000 incidents of suicidal behavior were reported in Los Angeles Unified in the last school year, an exponential jump from the 255 reported in 2010-2011 when the district, California's largest, began tracking such incidents.

The cases were cited in the district's latest Incident System Tracking Accountability Report, or iStar, an annual review of troubling incidents that occurred in district schools during the academic year. The list includes such things as injuries, accidents, fighting and inappropriate sexual behavior. The suicidal behavior rate, which has increased annually, tracks with rising episodes reported of depression among young people but also an expanding tool kit for dealing with it.

"We're now more aware of problems and when to take the opportunity to screen students for mental health issues," said Pia Escudero, LA Unified's director of School Mental Health Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. "We have more tools on student mental health and better tools to ask questions."

L.A. Unified has an array of staff and programs in place to address student behavioral issues designed to help students "bounce back from challenges with a stronger sense of self-confidence and coping capacity." A comprehensive Blueprint for Wellness was made available to the public this year.

The number of suicidal behavior incidents, 5,624, does not include successful suicide attempts, which are regarded as a separate category handled by city and county authorities, who do not enumerate suicides by school district. Nor does it necessarily represent an apples-to-apples comparison of incidents from one year to the next because the number of incidents has increased as district officials have improved methods of identifying problems, collecting data and responding to issues. The first iStar report, for 2010-2011, cited only 255 incidents of suicidal behavior.

Instead, the new report cites the number of cases in which a student's behavior suggested a pathway toward possible suicide. It recorded 347 cases of actual injury that experts viewed as suicidal behavior, 673 cases in which a student was referred to psychological counseling, 1,548 cases of cutting and other injuries, some not definitively linked to suicidal intent; and 3,056 cases in which a student, by word or action, expressed an openness to suicide, prompting district staff to intervene.

L.A. Unified had about 550,000 K-12 students last year.

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As for actual suicides, the most recent data from the LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner's office, for 2014, shows that among "children and adolescents," 10 died by suicide, compared with 13 for the year before, 17 in 2012, 19 in 2011 and 16 in 2010. It does not indicate whether any of the victims attended an L.A. Unified school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that in 2014, the most recent year for its data, the number of children between ages 10 and 14 nationally who died by suicide (425) overtook the number killed in a traffic accident that year (384).

Beyond L.A. Unified's improved record-keeping, the steady increase of incidents reported over the years echoes a greater awareness among school personnel of sociological, psychological and emotional factors that shape children well before they step into a classroom. …

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