MISSOURI — Some eye opening statistics about what southwest Missouri teens are thinking, feeling, and doing… Even how thoughts of suicide affect their lives.

That is Suicide Crisis: Prevention, Information, and Awareness.

“It is a little scary that our numbers were slightly elevated in some areas than other parts of the state,” said Debbie Fitzgerald, Freeman Director of Crisis Services.

The State of Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Eduation, known as “DESE”, administers a student survey for public school students in 6th through 12th grade every even year. Students answer anonymously, but the stats provide insight on how they’re feeling emotionally.

“It asks questions about safety and risk. For example, it will ask about alcohol use, skipping school, feeling sad, contemplating suicide.”

In 2020 – the last survey on record – a little more than 2,300 students in Missouri participated in the survey.

“What are our youth doing that we as educators and mental health providers, or parents may not be aware of? Because when students answer this anonymously, they’re more likely to be honest,” said Fitzgerald.

Our local data from students in Barton, Jasper, and Newton counties who took the survey show a higher percentage of local students than the state average feeling “very sad,” “hopeless about the future,” and using unprescribed prescription medications.

“You’re feeling very sad, very down, you’re feeling very hopeless about your future, you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel. Then it can turn to the other things, and so, it’s very worrisome.”

For example, 13.2% of students who answered in our three local counties seriously considered suicide… That’s 2% higher than the state average,

11.4% answered that they planned suicide…3% higher than the state average.

And, 6.6% attempted suicide locally, compared to the state average of 4.9%.

“Those are all dangerous behaviors,” added Fitzgerald.

The purpose of the DESE survey is to help address the issues so that mental health professionals and schools can come up with solutions and preventative measures for the young members of our community.

“You can plan school curriculum. You can offer education to the schools to go in. We partner with school districts.”

Local mental health professionals are hopeful the steps they’ve taken recently will show a change in the statistics when the survey is given this year.

“I think we’ve made good strides with different initiatives and prevention plans we have. I think we’ve made good strides working with school districts and offering trainings and education.”

Even with the added stressor of a global pandemic.

“Although 2020 was worrisome, I’m hopeful that 2022 comes out that our teens and youth are struggling less,” she said.

If you know anyone struggling with their mental health and they need someone to talk to, we urge you to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

We also have more resources for you under our Suicide Crisis tab.