Hagåtña, Guam – On September 3, 2021, Senator Nelson sent a letter to Superintendent Jon P. Fernandez of the Guam Department of Education. The letter listed concerns from School Counselors regarding the Student Procedural Assessment Manual (SPAM) emphasizing the suicide risk assessment of students.
Counselors brought up multiple issues in the current edition of the Student Procedural Assessment Manual (SPAM). They advised that they had sent requests to The Guam Department of Education to correct them before distributing them. These issues include unaligned procedures for Managing Students at Risk for Suicide in Chapters 12 and 17 of the SPAM. They also found that statements in Chapter 17 of the SPAM were inconsistent with the procedures in the Mental Health Screener Procedures.
The Counselors expressed concerns with using the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale and Suicide Assessment Risk Checklist that they must use when assigning a level of risk for a student. They believe that they should not set a level of risk because it could negate the actual suicide risk of the student.
Counselors also communicated that there was a lack of collaborative effort between them and the district psychologists. They feel that if screeners are used in these instances, then they should have the opportunity to choose the screeners selected. The current screeners that GDOE selected require a 45 day wait period per Public Law 31-202.
The Informed Consent Form for Mental Health screeners had issues such as convoluted language, and it does not successfully inform parents/guardians of the intent of the form, which is required by Public Law 31-202. The form also states that it is a means of "Preventing Suicide," but there has been no evidence to validate this statement. Counselors also note that the form is not available in some parents/guardians' primary languages and is not easily accessible from the GDOE website.
"With the changing environments due to the pandemic, it is important that we speak to this issue. We must provide professional and necessary resources to our school counselors to support our youth's mental health. It is crucial for their academic and mental progress," said Senator Nelson.
Mental health in youth is one of the most challenging issues society faces today. Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of fourteen. According to the National Council for Mental Well Being, one in six youth aged 6 to 17 years old suffer from mental health disorders each year. These disorders can impede a child's health, emotional well-being, and social development if left untreated. Addressing these concerns early in their life can have a substantial positive impact on a child.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Guam has some of the highest suicide incident rates, with sixteen (16) deaths by suicide per one hundred thousand people (100,000). 60% of that number are youth and young adults under 30 years of age.
"There is a strong need for suicide awareness and prevention today. Deaths from suicide have claimed one too many lives on our island and in our homes. As a community, we must do everything we can to remind one another that they are not alone in their suffering. It is imperative that those with the expertise to help are properly trained and credentialed to care for our island's youth and adults," Senator Nelson added.
For more information, please contact the Office of Senator
Telena Cruz Nelson at (671) 989-7696 or email@example.com
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