KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Mental health care in our schools

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For Diana Allen, this tattoo parlor isn’t a business, it’s a place that brings back memories. It’s a place where her grandson, Isaiah, learned about design and it’s a place she still feels his presence. She lost him to suicide nearly three years ago.

“I would love to ask him why. Because you never know when somebody commits suicide, you never know what went through their head,” she said. “You can assume, you can blame, you can never know. And you’ll never get the answers.”

And for those three years, she’s wished for just one more conversation with him. She knows exactly what she would say to him.

“Oh Isaiah, I love you. I miss you. I’d like to hug you just one more time,” she said as she started to weep. “He was my little helper.”

As a little boy, she called him a peacemaker, cyclist and daredevil. He especially enjoyed bicycles and making friends and family members happy. But as he grew up, he developed a speech impediment and was made fun of. The brutality of it all increased over time.

“It was stuttering,” she said. “In high school, that’s where they made fun of him the most. They started to make fun of him and called him stupid. And he was smarter than you could ever imagine.”

The taunting got worse – he dropped out, he did secure a job, but other pressures from friends and even some family intensified his depression. In 2016, he jumped off a Wichita bridge.

“He always sounded happy to me until that day,” she said. “You don’t want to see your child or your grandchild laying in a coffin. They’re not supposed to go before you. They really aren’t.”

It’s a story school guidance counselors know all too well.

So KAKE On Your Side Investigates sat down with four teachers. In the video above, they told Investigative Reporter Greg Miller that mental health is getting some attention from lawmakers – but not enough. They didn’t say that it was a crisis point, despite the Kansas School Workers Association testifying that very point to state lawmakers last winter.

But each educator said they knew of a case where a threat of self harm was made. Some blamed social stigma or the pressures of an Instagram-perfect life.

The American Psychiatric Association said schools should have one counselor or social worker for every 250 students. In Kansas that ratio is 1 to 450.

Relatives like Allen vow to keep telling her grandson’s stories, even if just one person listens.

“I just hope that Isaiah’s legacy can help open the eyes of people,” she said.

Psychiatrists offer the following signs that someone may be having suicidal thoughts:

- Talks about wanting to die
- Talks about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talks about being a burden to others
• Increases the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acts anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeps too little or too much

If you or someone you know needs help:

Comcare of Sedgwick County has a 24-hour crisis hotline for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis: 316-660-7500.

There’s also a National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.