Opinion

Saugus steps up

More than one out of 10 Saugus public school students has contemplated suicide in the last year, according to a student survey discussed during a local meeting Monday.

That is a horrifying and depressing statistic that is counterbalanced by another, much more positive finding: 82 percent of the student survey participants said they have an adult they can talk to in their family.

Depression, mental illness and suicide are societal realities and the survey findings revealed by Saugus students probably mirror similar findings in communities across the country. Town officials, parents, teachers and other residents deserve credit for forming a town Wellness Committee that meets monthly to discuss problems and concerns burdening students.

Committee members and local educators did not stick their heads in the proverbial sand or turn their backs on the frightening statistics revealed in answers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey taken by students last year.

The committee confronted the statistics and threw them into the glare of public examination Monday. The survey found that nearly 30 percent of Saugus students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row.

It revealed that 3 percent of students who took the survey attempted suicide and it also pinpointed statistics documenting how often students have turned to adults, including mental health professionals.

Saugus’ experience with student depression and its proactive reaction to mental health statistics mirrors the positive approach Swampscott has demonstrated in working with families to provide help for students.

Mental health problems for way too long were labeled as “maturity” or “teen years” challenges that kids would survive by transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Mental health professionals were misunderstood or ignored and problems identified today as mental health needs were placed on the shoulders of families who may or may not have been equipped to bear the weight of a child’s mental illness.

Societal focus on mental health has largely laid those fears and prejudices to rest and allowed educators, working with parents, to harness skills and resources provided by organizations like Depression Awareness, the Waltham-based organization that led Monday’s presentation at the Saugus library.

Like Swampscott, Saugus is hiring professionals who can bridge the gulf between school and home and ensure students with mental health needs receive comprehensive services. State and federal education agencies should ensure local efforts to address student mental health receive the money they need to provide and sustain services.

The great news in Saugus is students overwhelmingly indicated in the 2017 survey that they have an adult in their life who listens. The more daunting news is that there is a lot of listening that needs to be done.

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