Identifying community members who need mental health care is the next step in school security, according to a final report on St. Charles Unit District 303's spring summit meetings. The three-part series attempted to further close the safety gaps at local schools uncovered after shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., late last year.
"We can do all sorts of procedures to lock doors and keep guns out of schools, but the fact is Sandy Hook had all those things in place," said Superintendent Don Schlomann Monday night. "So this summit was about what else can we do to keep this kind of thing from happening. We looked at what happens if a community member becomes detached from their community. Can we identify a person who is struggling early on?"
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Unlike previous District 303 summits, the spring series focused more on parents and the community at large than it did on students.
District Spokesman Jim Blaney said the major accomplishment of the summit was creating an ongoing dialogue among mental health providers in the area via the establishment of the Fox Valley Mental Health Advisory Council.
That council, which includes local faith organizations and representatives from groups such as TriCity Family Services, now meets on a volunteer basis to address ways to better connect community members to mental health services.
One idea involves creating a palm card with information on local mental health providers. It would be similar to information currently provided to District 303 students on the back on their IDs.
Blaney said the summit opened many eyes to the difficulties associated with spotting mental illness. Key stats presented at the summit meetings included:
• At any given time, 25 percent of the adults in a community are dealing with some form of mental illness.
• Parents are unaware of 90 percent of suicide attempts made by kids.
Blaney said the biggest obstacle to improving the mental health of local residents is how mental illness is perceived. Blaney and summit Co-Chairman Jim DiCiaula said people think of schizophrenia when the topic of mental illness comes up. But even common depression is worthy of mental health services such as counseling.
"If you have kids who are athletes and they tear an ACL, you are going to go to your friends and ask if they've ever dealt with a similar problem," Blaney said. "But if I have a child who is struggling with a mental illness, I'm going to try and keep that in my own household. That's something that we need to change."
District officials have created a link on the district's homepage at d303.org where community residents can find mental health resources. At the link, area residents can also read full summaries of the summit meetings or watch full videos of the presentations, including a checklist of warning signs for mental illness.