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Campbell County School District is keeping a focus on mental health and suicide prevention

Hugh Cook
Wyoming Public Media

Campbell County School District (CCSD) officials are focusing on mental health and suicide prevention as part of their plans to combat an issue that has proven problematic. Efforts to tackle the problem come as the state’s and Campbell County’s suicide rate is on the rise.

“It's really been something we've worked on since 2008,” said Kip Farnum, Director of Student Support Services with the district. “We had a grant from SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Organization and it was a huge $6 million grant that we used for five years to put prevention programs in place, along with different types of intervention programs to reduce school bullying and violence.”

Additional grants helped to establish additional resources for students in the district, which came to include 18 programs.

“We were looking at ways of sustaining them, and we decided to try and apply for some grants for a school-based health care center,” he explained. “And with the emphasis being on mental health services, the prior grant the SAMSA grant Safe Schools Healthy Students grants it was called, we worked with the hospital to get mental health providers coming into our schools. We had four of them that circulated in all 24 of our schools. And that was a huge success for us.”

This led to the creation of the Kid Clinic, a child and school-based healthcare center that’s unique among the state’s school districts. He said it currently employs 16 people, a fourfold increase in seven years and offers counseling and psychiatric services among others. Services are offered in conjunction with Campbell County Health (CCH).

“We have the only really dedicated school-based health care center in the state,” Farnum said. “And we have six mental health providers working there, two primary care providers who one of them has a mental health certification. She's able to prescribe meds for kids and just work with them in a variety of ways.”

The clinic came about due to the problems that the district was faced with. It was decided that a dedicated facility was necessary to address these issues, which is currently housed next to one of Gillette’s two junior high schools.

“Then we thought if we could make a school-based healthcare center and make that the hub of our mental health services, or substance abuse services, have some group activities and do prevention in substance abuse, and then also provide primary care for some for great majority of our students, that would be fantastic,” he said. “And we were able to pull that off.”

There are approximately 8,800 students in the school district, which covers all of the county and is the third largest by enrollment of any district in the state. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on students, of which approximately 10 percent from each school receive mental health services from each school during the academic year. The number of students seeking mental health services continues to increase by about 10 percent each year. Youth suicides began to become more problematic around 2010 and peaked between 2014 and 2016 when nine school-aged children and teens took their lives, Farnum said.

District staff and teachers also participate in continuing education courses and a wide variety of other training. Identifying signs of depression, anxiety, and possibly suicide is all part of what they’re trained to look for, he explained.

“I think what the community and what the school district has in place now is much, much more in depth than what it was at that time,” Farnum said. “Kids had been trained on how to refer a friend without looking like they're ratting on him or being a snitch. And they can do it anonymously through another program called Safe2Tell where they can text or call and make an anonymous report of someone who has suicidal ideation. And we've had numerous of those reports, and we've definitely saved lives.”

Spanish-speaking students can receive counseling services through telehealth offerings from Jackson, which has bilingual therapists as the community doesn’t have any bilingual counseling options, which has proven very popular with these students, he said.

Farnum said the district added other initiatives as they’ve become available. He added that there is a big difference in the school district compared to the rest of Campbell County.

“In the last five years, we've had one student suicide and our suicide rate has been going down,” he said. “In the community as a whole, it's unfortunately been going the opposite direction. So, we feel like we're doing some real good work.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also dial 988 or by texting “WYO” to 741741. Local mental health and substance abuse services are also offered in communities statewide.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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