BATTLE GROUND, Wash. - Few communities are as familiar with the devastating consequences of bullying and teen depression as Battle Ground.
Over the last two years, seven students in that community took their own lives. Battle Ground Mayor Lisa Walters calls the string of suicides a full-blown health crisis, and she's leading the charge for change. Her first priority has been to improve access to effective mental health counseling for students and their families.
Walters has sat with each of the seven families who lost their child to suicide. She's prayed with them, cried with them and even laughed with them at the memories of better times.
But behind the smiles and the tears, there’re always the questions.
"A lot of the families who have lost their children regularly talk with me, 'Gosh, you know, we had another one. How do we stop this?' They don't want another family to feel the pain that they've felt," said Walters.
For the answers, Walters and the members of Battle Ground's newly formed suicide steering committee have reached out to parents, local educators, mental health professionals and church leaders.
Walters says the committee identified an immediate need to protect students who are in danger of harming themselves. Right now, students identified as suicide risks get little more than a trip to the emergency room.
"Our hospitals aren't equipped to deal with the health issues our children have and nine times out of ten they are back at school within a few hours," Walters said.
With help from the Washington Youth Suicide Prevention Program, the committee is working to build the Battle Ground School District its own counseling center to work with troubled teens and their families and with local mental health professionals stepping up to help in the short term.
"They've made a commitment to be available, so that we can have a place in the short term to deal with kids rather than sending them to the hospital,” said Curtis Miller, editor of the Battle Ground Buzz.
But solutions also start at home with parents reaching out to their kids.
"Especially with the influences they have now, with social media and all that stuff that we never experienced, it's hard for us to relate to that or know exactly what they're going through," said Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman.
The conversation about suicide, and the anti-bullying crusade, has also been taken up by Battle Ground's faith-based community. Seventy-six local religious leaders have signed on to help spread the word through sermons and other outreach activities.
KATU News and SurveyUSA conducted an exclusive poll in our area about bullying.
When asked, were you ever bullied in school?
- 65 percent of adults we asked said yes.
- 32-percent say they weren't.
- 3-percent weren't sure.
And, have any of your children ever been bullied?
- 53-percent said yes
- 42-percent said no
- 5-percent weren't sure.