Newport-Mesa posting suicide prevention signs at middle and high schools

As part of a larger initiative, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is mounting suicide prevention signs in restrooms at all its middle and high schools. Students can text or call for help if they feel anxious, depressed or think about harming themselves.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School District)

Suicide prevention signs are going up in restrooms at all Newport-Mesa Unified School District middle and high schools beginning this week.

The signs — part of a district mental health and wellness initiative — include information about how students can text or call for help if they feel anxious, depressed or think about harming themselves.

“Part of the effort is about really reducing the stigma connected to suicide,” said Angela Castellanos, Newport-Mesa’s coordinator of mental health and outreach. “We want to make sure kids know that what they’re experiencing is normal and that they’re not alone.”

The district’s increased focus on mental health began four years ago with the hiring of Castellanos, according to Phil D’Agostino, director of student and community services. The district also has increased its number of social workers from two to five.

The efforts were spurred by data that indicated an increasing number of students were engaging in self-harming behavior, D’Agostino said.

“We have a lot of students and families who are experiencing anxiety and depression,” he said. “As you can imagine, students with issues outside of school are likely to bring them to school, and not only does it affect their own well-being but that of those around them.”

As the district looks for more ways to reach out to students and families at their homes, it is continuing on-campus efforts, including the signs and crisis training for staff and students.

Training in identifying risk factors and warning signs of suicide is required for all teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade and is provided to seventh- and ninth-graders.

“It’s breaking the code of silence, not just for suicide prevention but for any threats,” Castellanos said. “It’s really important to have that conversation with them about how to help their peers.”

The new suicide prevention signs include a phone number — (800) 273-TALK (273-8255) — to connect students to a local crisis center affiliated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The organization provides free round-the-clock, confidential support to people in emotional distress. Students also may text 741-741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor affiliated with the National Crisis Text Line.

The district said more than 150 signs will be posted at a cost of $18 each.

D’Agostino, a former school principal, said the signs are being placed in restrooms because students tend to retreat there when they have adverse experiences during the school day. Additional signs will be placed in counseling areas and health offices.

The signs are ceramic with an anti-graffiti coating. The district’s goal is to have all of them up by April 15.

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This article was originally published at 11:10 a.m. and was later updated with additional information.