We all know about these calls; you hang up the phone with a pit in your stomach. How could this be happening again? It was summer, 2012 and the devastating news that once again a teen from our city had ended their life by their own hands. Monrovia is often times referred to as “Mayberry-like.” We are tight knit community of 37,000, fifteen miles northeast of Los Angeles nestled at the feet of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains. It was simply not possible that we have had four teen suicides in less than two years! Indicators showed that our city percentage of teen suicide (ages 15-19) exceeded national and county rates. To highlight the problem more clearly, we realized that these suicides had occurred in the summer months.
The wellness of our community, and in particular our youth, was at a crisis point. My first communication was with our school superintendent, who agreed we needed to make a call to action to bring together school district psychologists, members of our faith community, mental health professionals, parents and most importantly students. The group was named Healing Connections and our goal was simple – reduce/eliminate teen suicides in Monrovia.
We began with a school-wide survey to determine areas of social emotional needs. Outreach programs for our middle and high schools were created. Our plan was to create opportunities to engage the youth during the school year, but also during the important summer months.
Healing Connections, an all-volunteer committee, implemented these successfully programs over the past two years:
- You’re Worth It Cards, developed and designed by a high school student, were given to all students with information on suicide prevention and teen life lines.
- An annual month-long citywide program called March4Balance was established to reduce the mental health stigma and increase focus on mental health needs through a campaign to educate our community by reaching out to students, parents, business leaders, community service clubs and churches. In an effort to engage the community short video was used to focus the discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEWQb8IkG-E&feature=em-share_video_user
- Church and City Youth Commissions established or enhanced programs where student leaders, including school club presidents from the Bullying Club, Gay Straight Alliance and others, spoke at youth groups and churches regarding mental health awareness.
- In-reach programs were held at lunch at all secondary schools where community agencies set up tables to display information regarding services to increase students’ knowledge of activities in the community and access mental health and suicide prevention services. The community agencies engaged students through games and prizes.
- Annual assemblies were held at all middle and high school to bring awareness to suicide markers, prevention and contact information for teen hotlines so students will know who to tell when they are concerned about a friend who might be suicidal.
- Brochures, pamphlets and telephone messaging were sent to parents from Healing Connections and all publications, written and online were produced in English and Spanish.
- A weekly summer teen night event was created partnering the city, local YMCA, faith groups and volunteers on Friday nights in Library Park during the summer where teens could gather to engage in music, art, recreation and leadership activities.
- Churches, the YMCA, the Community Center and schools hosted parent information events, making parents more aware of teens’ mental health needs.
- Social media links on such sites as Facebook and Twitter were created in order for students to connect, identify and obtain help if there was a need. Healing Connections youth monitored the sites and reached out to adults when needed.
The exciting outcomes – two years without a successful teen suicide in our city, a reduction in incidences of attempted suicides, a reduction in emergency calls, an increase in students asking for help for themselves and others, and an increase in student participation in school campus and community activities!
In the fall of 2014, these efforts were awarded with the coveted California School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Award.
This an ongoing, innovative, sustainable program with full collaboration and support within the city – Councilmember Larry Spicer, the Monrovia Police Department and Community Services Department, the Monrovia Unified School District, the Monrovia Ministerial Association, mental health agencies and most importantly our youth, all working from a common concern for the health of our community.