Olathe School District adds program to fight teen suicide

OLATHE, Kansas -- As teen suicide continues to rise, schools across Kansas City are joining the fight to end the epidemic.

"He was the last kid you would ever expect to do what he did," said Nathan Harrell, whose son, Chad, committed suicide in 2017. 

For the Harrell family, it was their worst nightmare: Their 17-year-old son was gone.

Angie Salava, college and career readiness coordinator for the Olathe School District, said that 150 out of every 1,000 students in fourth, sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade have considered suicide within the last year. 

"With numbers like that, we knew we needed to do something," Salava said.

So the district did something. It launched a new program called SOS, the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program.

As part of the program, students watch a video and later complete a seven-question self-evaluation.

"After students take the screener and score themselves, they are given a card that looks similar to this. This card asks them if they want to speak to somebody immediately," Salava said.

Students then talk to counselors and mental health experts.

Salava said teens often feel more comfortable writing down their feelings, instead of talking to someone.

"What gives me a lot of pause is the fact that we literally save these students, and that lets me know that what we are doing is great," Salava said.

The district has already seen how the program is making a difference.

"At Olathe South, we saw 133 students on that day, and we hospitalized six of those students. This program is making a difference. We are saving lives," Salava said.

Two more students were helped by the program just this week, she said.

Meanwhile, the Harrells continue to help schools across the Kansas City area with suicide prevention.

"It's great that Olathe is leading this charge on testing the kids. Because hopefully that kind of thing will roll to the other districts," said Sylvia Harrell, Chad's mother.

His parents hope that Chad's high school steps up and takes on a program like this.

"If I had another chance to have him go through a screening like this, if there was something that could have been raised at that point in time, it would have allowed us to know he was where he was," Nathan Harrell said.

The Harrells have started a nonprofit in their son's honor called Keep the Spark Alive. For more information on the foundation, visit www.ktsa.org.

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