In Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong’s 20 years in law enforcement where two youth committed suicide, one was rejected by a girl and he isn’t sure the other case falls under the category. But he knows there are two challenges to overcome in similar cases.
“Number one: The distrust that by calling the police or calling a hotline, (the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at) 988 or a mechanism of reporting,” Furlong said. “The belief that Sgt. (Steve) Olson’s crew is going to arrest the child — not true. The second thing is an even greater challenge, and it’s when you talk with the schools, that the schools have an attitude. If it’s not on campus and they’re not enrolled in our system, we ain’t touching it.”
According to the new report “Suicide Deaths Affecting Children and Schools in Nevada” released in February, Nevada currently ranks 13 in the nation for suicide deaths. The white paper was coauthored by officials at the Nevada Department of Education and the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health Office of Suicide Prevention. The information is intended to guide state leaders and agencies on the seriousness of the issue and to find interventions for school- and community-based resources. CCSO’s members of its Mobile Outreach Safety Team (MOST), which assists local residents and visitors who experience mental health, substance abuse or suicidal crisis, and Carson City School District staff members today are working to ensure students have the safest options available in dealing with suicide prevention.
The report states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had projected a 11% increase in suicides for 10- to 17-year-old youth and a 17% increase for 18- to 24-year-old young adults for 2021 and a decrease in all age groups for 2022. Rates were expected to decrease “due to community support and connectedness, telehealth access, financial assistance and families spending more time together.”
Carson City’s police force recently offered its own insight to the Appeal about situations it responds to when officers are called in to help in a crisis. Furlong and members of the Carson City Sheriff’s Office Mobile Outreach Safety Team discussed some of the results and concerns from the February report as it pertained to teen suicides in the Silver State.
“Nothing drags a community down further than a child who kills themselves,” Furlong said.
Officers serving the Carson City School District, including school resource officers (SROs) who help to train staff members on suicide prevention, say they feel students’ behavior within the home or outside the classroom truly makes an impact within it as well. SROs, so far year to date, have made about 500 calls to Carson City schools, with about half of those MOST members going to Carson High School.
Olson, a district SRO, said the availability to SafeVoice, an anonymous tip reporting system established by the Nevada Department of Education to protect student wellness under Senate Bill 212 in 2017, allows deputies to handle the care of students.
“If they get arrested or if anything happens in the home, our deputies do handle the care so that all the school staff knows at least something happened with this child and to be hands off so our deputies handle the care,” Olson said.
In the instance of teen suicide, SROs can reach out to social workers who can transport the child to the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center or the Mallory Behavioral Health Crisis Center for treatment, Olson said.
But while the report does include two Carson City teen suicides in its numbers, Carson City School District’s Michelle Cleveland celebrates the district has not seen a completed teen suicide in recent years, choosing to focus on some positive outcomes instead that does not reflect the data.
Since transitioning from a building administrator with Bordewich Bray Elementary School to the district’s Project AWARE — Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education — and Multi-Tiered Support Systems (MTSS) coordinator two years ago, she has been able to help Carson City staff members learn how to recognize when students are in distress and to respond appropriately with mental health resources.
“So many good things are coming to fruition,” she said.
Success is measured by programs and resources available now that have helped curb numbers in the district. Cleveland said Carson City’s system of support is growing, with the district adding counselors and social workers in recent school years. The secondary schools have three counselors each and there are social workers among the 10 campuses.
“We’re making sure we have the correct training, and we’re giving training to all of our school district administrators this year,” Cleveland said. “They’re learning the red flags of students who may or may not be presenting the behaviors (leading to suicide).”
Cleveland said working together as a community, involving the families, schools and law enforcement, works best to provide the “web of support” for therapy for students in distress or to help them navigate the conflicts that can lead to depression and anxiety. While students typically were used to passing notes in class, now they’re being exposed to social media pressures on a new level, she said.
“There have been lots of discussions on the need for social media, and is there a positive platform for that, and that’s not how our kids communicate with each other,” Cleveland said.
CCSD offers critical therapy resources, including human interaction and training to help recognize young people who might be withdrawing or in distress. Project AWARE gives state educational agencies an opportunity to build their capacity to offer school-based mental health programs and services. Cleveland said this helps staff access local or state offices where therapists might be deployed for students without barriers, all at the parents’ consent.
Furlong said minors are more likely to have suicidal ideations off campus when it’s dark, depressing and lonely — as it happened with the first incident he recalled years ago — than at school.
But he could say with certainty that although the local schools might have limited capabilities at the moment of crisis, they have the most amount of contact with students as far knowing their typical behavior and identifying that something is wrong.
It’s also important to make sure students know they can trust SROs in uniform when they come to campus since cops aren’t “the bad guys,” MOST Deputy Israel Loyola said, adding visitations on campus aren’t always about making arrests.
“They show a level of respect to law enforcement because we have corresponding units,” Loyola said. “We’re always educating everybody. We’re not bad people. Not every uniform is bad.”
Furlong said although most incidents tend to be isolated, most involve Carson High School students. Occasional calls end up being Carson Middle School repeats and tend to be rare at the elementary level, he said.
“It’s not like all the staff doesn’t know this one individual doesn’t have a crisis hold on them,” Furlong said. “It’s usually a contained event unless it’s a major suicide event, which hasn’t happened here (recently) in Carson.”
CCSO MOST member Brittney Baumann, a licensed clinical social worker, said the team is always careful in handling the situation appropriately at all times.
“One common misconception is parents are like, ‘Oh, my child is acting out or they’re seeking attention,’” Baumann said. “Regardless, if that is what they’re doing, our community takes it seriously in giving that kiddo space and time in talking about what they’re struggling with.”
Students can use the SafeVoice tool to report concerns about friends by calling 833-216-7233 or visiting www.safevoicenv.org. The Nevada Teen Text Line is available at 775-296-8336. CCSO’s Mobile Outreach Safety Teams can be contacted at 775-350-5118 or 775-230-6002, and the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available by dialing 988.