The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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December 5, 2012

National program’s demise will not stop local suicide prevention efforts

Schools, mental health officials work to form own screening process

CAMANCHE — As one door closes, another door opens for suicide prevention in Clinton County.

TeenScreen, a national suicide screening program that has evaluated more than 560 students in the county, will be shutting down in the near future, but local specialists are already working on a new program to fill the void.

The program out of Columbia University in New York is offered locally through Bridgeview Community Mental Health Center. It had just started at Camanche Middle School this fall and also served students in Central High School in DeWitt, Northeast High School in Goose Lake, Calamus-Wheatland High School and Clinton High School.

 “It’s disappointing,” Camanche Middle School Principal Justin Shaffer said. “It’s something we were doing to be proactive.”

TeenScreen National Center announced the winding down of its programming late last week. The center will close its doors on Dec. 14, ending screening programs across the nation. The program was forced to end operations due to a lack of funding.

 While the program that has provided screenings for affiliates across the country over the past 13 years is coming to a close, Bridgeview facilitators and therapists have a new and similar program in the works. The staff is working towards creating its own screening program using experience from TeenScreen.

“We’re hoping to streamline and customize the questions,” Program Coordinator Jocelyn Meyer said. “We probably won’t change things much.”

Currently, Clinical Director Paul Blair is looking over documents to develop and fine tune questions. They hope to have a new program up and running in mid- January. Several school officials have already said they are on board with the new program, according to Meyer.

“We’re confident that the schools will continue to take part in a new program,” Meyer said. “It’s awesome how concerned people are and how they’re willing to work together to help the kids.”

In Camanche, 95 parents signed off to have their teens participate in the program. Bridgeview plans to screen more than half of the students before TeenScreen shuts down and screen the remaining students with the new program.

 “We believe there is value in screening programs like this and we would definitely like to fill the void that the program has left,” Camanche Superintendent Tom Parker said.

In the short time that Camanche Middle School has participated, it has seen significant results. While some students have opted out of the program, others have tested positive, according to Meyer. The screenings have left an even greater impact beyond the results.

  “We have had overwhelming support,” Shaffer said. “Parents are pleased and it has brought discussions up amongst families that may have not come up otherwise.”

Bridgeview recently secured a grant from United Way to continue the TeenScreen program at all four schools and start it up in Camanche this year. This grant is effective Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 of next year. The program was given the go ahead in Camanche to address the high suicide rate in the small community, especially among adolescents.

The local United Way agency agreed to continue offering the grant for the yet-to-be-titled new screening program due to the importance of the issue.

“Early detection at schools is the best thing we can do,” Meyer said. “Suicide is a real problem in this area.”

Bridgeview’s TeenScreen Schools and Communities program started in 2007. This program was created to address the problems of unidentified mental illness and suicide risk in youths.

The national program was developed in 1991 in response to research revealing that 90 percent of youths who die by suicide were suffering from a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their deaths and that 63 percent experience symptoms for at least a year prior to their deaths.

More than 560 students have been screened in Clinton County through the program in the last five years, including 258 at Central High School, 104 at Northeast High School, 103 at Calamus-Wheatland High School and 98 at Clinton High School.

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