ISHPEMING — Marquette County has a rate of 13 suicides per 100,000 people, which is on par to the national average, according to the Marquette County Health Department.

One local school district is seeking to decrease that number by instituting a new mental health policy.

“Because kids feel alone, because they don’t feel like they have hope that whatever they’re suffering from is going to go away,” said Jeff Olson, an educator and coach at Ishpeming High School. Educators from Birchview Elementary and Ishpeming Middle and High School attended a professional workshop to address that very concern.

The Ishpeming School District partnered with MARESA and the Marquette County Health Department to put together today’s seminar. The goal was to familiarize teachers with strategies in dealing with students that are suffering both visibly and silently from a slew of various mental illnesses.

“It is so important for teachers. They are on frontlines. They’re with students so many hours every day, every week,” said Sarah Derwin, a health educator at the Marquette County Health Department. “They can be some of our best partners to be able to identify students that may be going through a tough time, maybe feeling suicidal. We really want those teachers to feel comfortable to be able to identify and then to refer those students on for further help.”

The idea of mental illness education was only added to Ishpeming Middle School’s school improvement plan, but will be in affect throughout the school district. Administration will take input from the teachers before putting a procedural policy up for review by the school board. If the board approves it, the Ishpeming School District will be the first in the area to usher in policy regarding mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and suicide.

“Our hopes are that our students that are suffering in some way would be able to find help immediately. That’s our biggest goal in this,” said Ishpeming Middle and High School Principal Vicki Lempinen. “We want them to really them to immediately feel some relief from that and get some help. That’s first and foremost.”

“It’s more prevalent in our society, especially in the Upper Peninsula. It’s becoming more and more open and a lot of kids and adults are suffering,” Olson said. “It’s educating people and that’s what our training is today. We’re trying to educate people about mental illness, about suicide, how you can help prevent it, give people hope.”

Students can expect to see a few new changes when school starts up, like an advisor-advisee relationship between students and teachers. Staff will also be meeting every Monday morning to further their training and tweak policy as new problems arise.
A decision will hopefully be made on the policy sometime in September or October.