Schools face rise in suicides during pandemic: "So many kids are hurting"
Nick Orr is teaching more than science in his Las Vegas High School classroom. Orr says his students were different when they returned from remote learning.
"I've had to work with our social workers more times than I can even count just because so many kids are hurting," Orr told CBS News.
At least 30 students have died by suicide in the Clark County School District since the pandemic began.
Nationwide, about one in five teens considered suicide during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also found 44% of high school students in the U.S. reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless in the past year.
To confront the challenge, the school district launched a weekly social and emotional learning lesson.
"Honestly, it does help — that moment of five minutes of talking about, 'Oh today was not the best day,'" Maurice, a Sierra Vista High School student, told CBS News.
CBS News joined Maurice and his classmates as they discussed the topic of "belonging" in class.
"Now that we're all back, I feel like a lot of people are more, like, they're not as willing to … talk to someone new," Alex said.
"I would say the impact is, like, people feeling alone," Giovanna added.
Principal Jessica Lovell brings a therapy dog to school every day and says her teachers know the job takes more than the description requires.
"I think it goes back to that teacher as a, a kind have to wear different hats. So, am I teaching right now, am I a therapist right now, am I talking kids down right now, am I talking about what's happening in the world," Lovell told CBS News.
Orr knows the consequences of missing the signs of distress. In August 2020, his 18-year-old brother, Anthony, was among those 30 students the district lost to suicide. Anthony had just graduated.
"If I didn't see this in my own brother, someone with whom I was living, how am I gonna see it in someone that I see for 84 minutes every other day?" Orr said. "He kept everything hidden and on his phone and, well, he didn't vocalize when he needed help."
Preventing that from happening again is now his mission.
"I think we need to take a lot of pressure off kids as far as grades and academics, and put more pressure on happiness and well-being," he said. "It's OK to not be OK, as long as you have a plan to get back to OK."
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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