This article is the second article highlighting a report on student mental health concerning self-harm and suicidal thoughts obtained from the 2017 Georgia Student Health Survey on public school students from Camden County in grades 6-12. The first article was a column written by a local mental health professional, Dr. Dale Blanton. 


The recent death of a local high school student has caused local organizations and the school system to re-evaluate their education components on suicide prevention.  

Camden County’s network of mental health services has gaps, according to Clinical Director of Coastal Counseling and licensed psychotherapist, Dr. Dale Blanton. Currently, Camden County does not have a full-time psychiatrist, but four part-time psychiatrists see patients on a monthly basis. Blanton sees the need for more community-wide active effort on suicide awareness. Since the fracturing of the Gateway Community Service Board in 2013, many networks of mental health services continue to be underserved in the county.

Since 2011, the state of Georgia has anonymously surveyed students in the county about school climate and other questions related to overall student health. The survey is developed through several agencies and research institutions which includes the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) and Georgia Department of Public Health. The survey is used in conjunction with a school district’s state report card known as the College and Career Readiness Index measure, known as CCRPI. The survey is administered annually from October through February according to the DOE’s website.

Embedded within a school district’s report is the School Climate Ratings which contains the results from Georgia Student Health Survey.  The results for the questions related to self-harm/suicidal thoughts for Camden County is higher than the state and has been since 2015. However, since 2015, those numbers have been decreasing.

The results for Camden County has raised concerns about the nature of student mental health and what local communities are doing to help prevent and educate stakeholders about suicide prevention and other related behaviors. This concern is not isolated to Camden County but is an ever-growing concern statewide.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Georgia’s youth ages 15 to 17 years. In 2014, there were 28 suicide deaths, in 2015 there were 51, and in 2016 there were 48 reviewed youth suicides in Georgia. Nationally, every year approximately, 157,000 youths between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the United States, and suicide admissions to Children’s Hospitals doubled over the last decade ( Child Fatality Review Panel Data, 2015).

Recently, Governor Nathan Deal announced the report from the Commission on Children’s Mental Health. The report recommended a focus on eight critical areas, and one area included suicide prevention and school-based mental health. These recommendations look to help identify and correct further gaps in the state’s mental health system.

Within the Georgia Student Health Survey, over 3800 of Camden’s students were asked about peer victimization, self-harm and suicidal behaviors along with over 100 questions related to school climate in grades 6-12. As mentioned previously, Camden’s student survey responses were higher than the states in the areas of self-harm and suicidal ideation. Among males and female students, female students had higher responses of wanting to inflict self-harm/suicidal thoughts. The data also shows that the middle school responses were higher than the high schools. When reviewing the data, some of the answers to the questions have the following related to self-harm or suicide (responses can be viewed at the end of the article):

  • I have not seriously considered
  • Because of the demands of school or work
  • Problems with peers or friends
  • I do not feel safe at school
  • Family reasons
  • Being bullied
  • Other

The answer to “Other” was the highest recorded response to the questions focusing on self-harm/suicide for Camden. The second highest responses were “Family reasons” and “demands of school or work” from Camden’s students. 

For questions asking if students contemplated harming themselves or committing suicide, most students answered that they have not harmed themselves or would not seriously consider suicide. However, between 8 to 16 percent of respondents stated that they have considered harming themselves on one or more occasions depending on the nature of the questions.

AllOnGeorgia – Camden contacted the Georgia Department of Education’s (DOE) area on Safe and Drug-Free Schools and spoke with Jeffrey Keller about what information they may have to explain the responses. Keller stated the DOE is looking to revise the survey to break down the “Other” category. Based on his review of the research in this area, Keller believes it could be related to relationships between boyfriend/girlfriends influenced by social media.

Keller’s inference is also consistent with the information from the GBI’s Child Fatality Review Panel. According to the Child Fatality Review Panel’s latest reporting of data, “Family Discord” was the highest data point followed by “Breakup with boyfriend/girlfriend”, “School Related Issues”, and “All Other.” These responses all tied as having the same reporting numbers for the second most reasons suicide occur among 15 to 17 year-olds in the state.

The survey data collected from subsequent years on Camden’s public school students on suicide and suicidal attempts is consistent with the yearly trend seen in Georgia on the increase in depression and anxiety. Local mental professionals state that most of their child-aged clients are showing high levels of depression and anxiety which is related to school-related stresses.

Georgia law created the Child Fatality Review (CFR) Panel for 159 counties. AllOnGeorgia – Camden reached out to the local District Attorney’s office about the role of the local CFR Panel in a situation involving child deaths and possible areas to improve educational components of suicide prevention.

The District Attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, stated that the CFR panel meets a few times throughout the year. Johnson stated that the CFR’s main job is to report child fatality data and render policy recommendations for prevention. When asked if the CFR panel has met about the recent suicide in the county of a high school student, she said they have not met about the current incident.

Johnson stated that the local CFR committees review all injury, sleep-related, and unexpected/suspicious deaths to children who are less than 18 years old. Local committees then submit their reviews using the National CDR Case Reporting System. The state Panel reviews selected case reports that have been completed by the local committees.

Johnson stated that the CFR committees in each county are led by the District Attorney, and include members from six other disciplines (Public Health, Juvenile Court, Coroner/Medical Examiner, Law Enforcement, DFCS, and Mental Health). Johnson said school officials could be pulled in as needed for policy recommendation input.

DA Jackie Johnson stated that her office sees a lot of cyberbullying type behavior reported amongst adolescents and it often involves child exploitation with children taking inappropriate pictures which she believes leads to exploitation and cyberbullying behavior. Such behavior often filters into the schools by way of social media. Johnson warns that students who often partake in this behavior do not understand the long-term ramifications and more education is needed.

Steven Sainz, Executive Director of Camden Family Connections (CFC), an active non-profit organization which seeks to improve the lives of families and children within the community, said that CFC is currently working with the school district to allocate grant resources in which CFC has secured. 

The grant is expected to target the middle schools in the district. Saniz stated that the middle school responses to the student health survey on self-harm/suicide ideation are higher than the state. The grant looks to allocate more resources to a pre-existing program called Sources of Strength, which was primarily designed to prevent and educate school students and stakeholders on suicide prevention and awareness.

The Sources of Strength website says on that their mission is to provide the highest quality evidence-based prevention for suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse by training, supporting, and empowering both peer leaders and caring adults to impact their world through the power of connection, hope, help, and strength.

Camden County Schools implemented the Sources of Strength program in 2015, but it has become somewhat inactive at the high school level, due to a lack of ongoing support and resources. However, Dr. Joseph Goble, Director of Student Services at Camden County Schools, said the district is expected to train more people on the program starting in February of 2018 through June 2020.

According to Saniz, their goal is to help the school bring the program into the middle schools and training involved will help the high school leaders implement the program with the collaboration with the Military Liaison team at Kings Bay Naval Base. Currently, it cost between $5,000 to $10,000 to bring the Sources of Strength program into one school. 

The Cobb County School District near Atlanta started implementing the program and said the hardest part of implementation is the commitment level, but its evidence-based approach is worthwhile in education, prevention, and peer leadership training for students.

Saniz reported that CFC is looking to re-connect their Mental Health Focus team in the county to help create a network of mental health providers. Saniz mentioned that he is also looking for input from the county’s current mental health professionals as well as stakeholders to help assist with the Mental Health Focus team.

Since the fracturing of the Behavioral Review Board, Saniz believes that building a stronger mental health network for those seeking mental health professionals are needed to decrease the gap for providers in the county.

Camden County Schools is also playing an active role in the conversation to educate its students and community on suicide awareness. Dr. Joseph Goble stated in an email that the school district works closely works with groups and organizations to promote awareness and offer support to community members & students which include the following:

  •         Local Interagency Planning Team
  •         Camden County Suicide Prevention Coalition
  •         Coastal College Innovative Preventive Education/Adult Depression Screening
  •         Coastal Counseling Board/Child Screenings
  •         Child Fatality Review Panel/System
  •         Camden County Sheriff’s Department C.H.A.M.P.S./Bullying, Alcohol, Stress, Violence, etc.

Furthermore, Goble stated that annually, school staff undergo training for suicide awareness and continue to update curriculum related to suicide prevention. Goble stated that the Sources of Strength program is looking to train replacement staff, recertify trainers, and implement Sources of Strength student-led strength-based campaigns and signage. The goal of the program will be to share messages of hope and assistance with students and other stakeholders. Goble also stated that the Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS) program also helps with education about cyberbullying and other antisocial behavior reinforced by School Counselors, contracted Behaviorists, and Military Family and Life Counselors for military-connected students.

Lena Brathwait Bell, who chairs the Camden County Suicide Coalition, states that her organization strives to promote suicide prevention and education in the community. Brathwaite Bell, who holds a masters degree in Counseling Psychology, states that she works closely with school district social workers, Kings Bay Base personnel, Camden Family Connections, and local mental health providers to focus on suicide education.

Brathwaite Bell states that the Coalition met once in December of 2016 and plans to meet Jan 26th, 2018 to discuss issues surrounding the county’s most recent suicide and to promote the discussion on the education program knowns as Sources of Strength. Brathwaite Bell states she helped start the local program of Sources of Strength within the school district two years ago and looks forward to making the program stronger.

Brathwaite Bell helped bring the program to Camden County in 2015 where she helped train school leaders. Also, she helped conduct training in 2016 for new student peer leaders within the school district. Brathwaite Bell says the overall focus of the Sources of Strength program is to show students how to build healthy relationships and strengthen the best attributes in students. By focusing on strengths, the program builds on those factors to help reduce harmful thoughts and builds leadership skill through better-coping mechanisms.

“It takes committed adults to do the program,” said Brathwaite Bell.

The Coastal College Innovative Preventive Education/Adult Depression Screening is coordinated twice a year – once in the fall and spring of each academic year.  Students under the age of 18 must have parental permission to be screened according to Brathwaite Bell. Such screenings can help identify individuals who may need services for mental health. Brathwaite Bell says the next mental health screening will be April 2018.


The survey questions were taken from the Georgia Student Health Survey (2016-2017). The questions for Camden’s total responses were compared to the state’s overall responses and converted into percentages from the raw numbers for a side-by-side comparison. The responses are for grades 6-12. Bold numbers indicate the response was higher than the state.  To view previous years of data, click here on the Georgia Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools reporting. 

State’s 2017 Report  – Click HERE

Camden’s 2017 Report – Click HERE

79

During the past 12 months, on how many occasions have you seriously considered harming yourself on purpose?

CAMDEN

STATE

84.58%

I have not harmed myself

87.90%

7.90%

On 1-2 occasions

6.56%

2.59%

3-5 occasions

2.00%

4.90%

On more than 5 occasions

3.45%

80

During the past 12 months, if you have seriously considering harming yourself on purpose, what was the most likely reason?

CAMDEN

STATE

82.32%

I have not seriously considered

85.16%

2.96%

Because of the demands of school work

1.87%

2.07%

Problems with peers or friends

1.83%

0.41%

I do not feel safe at school

0.50%

3.76%

Family reasons

3.24%

2.23%

Being bullied

1.70%

6.74%

Other

5.65%

81

During the past 12 months, on how many occasions have you harmed yourself on purpose?

CAMDEN

STATE

91.17%

I have not harmed myself

92.99%

4.78%

On 1-2 occasions

4.07%

1.42%

3-5 occasions

1.23%

2.62%

On more than 5 occasions

1.69%

82

During the past 12 months, if you have harmed yourself on purpose, what was the most likely reason?

CAMDEN

STATE

89.04%

I have not harmed myself

90.60%

1.32%

Because of the demands of school work

1.12%

1.14%

Problems with peers or friends

1.14%

0.13%

I do not feel safe at school

0.18%

2.69%

Family reasons

1.95%

1.45%

Being bullied

1.18%

4.20%

Other

3.80%

83

During the past 12 months, on how many occasions have you seriously considered attempting suicide?

CAMDEN

STATE

89.90%

I have not harmed myself

91.20%

5.68%

On 1-2 occasions

5.30%

1.70%

3-5 occasions

1.37%

2.64%

On more than 5 occasions

2.01%

84

During the past 12 months, if you have seriously considered attempting suicide, what was the most likely reason?

CAMDEN

STATE

88.32%

I have not harmed myself

89.80%

1.63%

Because of the demands of school work

1.37%

1.06%

Problems with peers or friends

1.05%

0.13%

I do not feel safe at school

0.17%

2.80%

Family reasons

2.28%

1.35%

Being bullied

1.17%

4.70%

Other

4.12%

85

During the past 12 months, on how many occasions have you attempted suicide?

CAMDEN

STATE

95.60%

I have not attempted

96.16%

2.05%

On 1-2 occasions

2.56%

0.72%

3-5 occasions

0.61%

0.70%

On more than 5 occasions

0.65%

86

During the past 12 months, if you have attempted suicide, what was the most likely reason?

CAMDEN

STATE

94.10%

I have not attempted

94.04%

0.83%

Because of the demands of school work

0.83%

0.46%

Problems with peers or friends

0.60%

0.05%

I do not feel safe at school

0.12%

1.47%

Family reasons

1.22%

0.80%

Being bullied

0.83%

2.25%

Other

2.34%

 

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