7 Investigates: Youth suicide prevention: report shows adding therapist improving students’ mental health

MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) – Editor’s note: Because discussing suicide can be a triggering event, for immediate help or support contact: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8285); The Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1); Crisis Text Line: Text 741-741 to connect to a trained crisis counselor

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Adding licensed therapists to all Marathon County public schools is improving a majority of students mental health, according to a new report obtained by 7 Investigates.

“The results are overwhelmingly positive,” Marathon County Health Department Educator Hannah Schommer said. “Students are saying they’re getting help with their peers. With their family. They’re doing better in school. And actually 86 percent of the fourth through 12th graders say they feel better about their life now.”

Those results followed an eye-opening report showing more than 100 Marathon County middle schoolers surveyed said they had attempted suicide.
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Jonny’s story

"I was quite the bossy older sister. I supported them all when they went to join sports. And was not athletic at all,” Angelica Krautkramer said, remembering her brother Jonny Wesener with a smile on her face. “He was always just smiling and laughing and was always in a good mood. He was very kind. Loved to laugh. He loved my dogs as much as I did.”

But those irreplaceably good memories are also filled with speechless, gut-wrenching moments. It had been three years since Wesener died by suicide.

“I lost my brother five days after I graduated from college. Krautkramer recalled with tears streaming down her cheeks. “He told us in the voicemail that he hoped we had a good life without him. It's just, makes you question (crying) what his mental state was that made him think we'd be OK without him."

Wesener was 16-years-old when he killed himself.

"When we started my parents focused mainly on the bullying aspect. And we didn't focus too much on the mental health aspect,” Krautkramer said. “And as time has gone on I think we've targeted more of the mental health. Because it's the thing that affects children everywhere."

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128 Marathon County middle schoolers say they’d attempted suicide

The mental health impact, on young people, can be seen in the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers. Suicide rates have risen to their highest levels since World War II.

Suicide is currently 10 to 34-year-old's second leading cause of death. Information Marathon County heath leaders know all too well.

"Health behaviors are starting younger and younger now," the health department’s Schommer said.

It is why the health educator said part of the county's annual youth behavior risk survey, of 4,800 students from ten county school districts, asks mental health questions.

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For the first time in the survey’s history, 2,900 of those students were middle schoolers, joining 1,900 high schoolers took part in the assessment, which including answering some depression and suicide questions.

"It was heavy,” Schommer said. “This was the first time we've seen any data like this. And it struck us."

Struck by how, out of 4,800 students, 610 said they had seriously thought about killing themselves, 463 had a suicide plan, 204 said they had made a suicide attempt, and most of those saying they had attempted suicide, 128 students, were middle schoolers, between 11 and 14- years-old.

"And we knew we had to do something about it," Schommer added.

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Report: adding licensed therapists leading to better mental health

You can think of Wausau psychotherapist Carla Jones representing one of the ways the county leaders are taking action to improve more student’s mental health.

Through a partnership called the Marathon County School-Based Counseling Consortium (MCS-BCC), which includes mental health clinics, public school districts and community organizations, she is now one of 30 licensed mental health counselors bringing therapy access right into every county public school.

"I'm not really well marked. When the students come we're in the counseling office. They don't have to necessarily say I'm going for therapy," Jones said.

Professional licensed counselors, like Jones, say that removes the barrier of students having to travel to get professional help.

"By being here it's talked about more. The teachers know we're here. The guidance counselors know we're here. Being able to talk about depression. Anxiety. Whatever it is. Helps break down some of those stigmas. Just being able to talk about it."

That talk therapy impact seen in the new report, “Impact of School-Based Counseling in Marathon County. Compiled by the MCS-BCC, showed 86.1 percent of fourth to twelfth graders said they felt better about their life now than before counseling.

"Hopefully the majority of them have then been reached. They're getting the resources they need. Because we're here in the school," Jones said.

The MSC-BCC’S ultimate goal is to have a licensed therapist in every school five days a week to meet the need of students wanting the service.

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Prevent Suicide Marathon County

One of Krautkramer’s most difficult memories is recalling what her brother wrote right before he died.

"The hardest part was he left us a note saying he'd tried this three times before," Krautkramer said. “And it was very hard to come to terms with that."

Talking about all she remembers about Jonny with Prevent Suicide Marathon County helps her continue to heal. She hopes to see the group grow in numbers, so it can help fill a support void for anyone who has lost a family member or friend to suicide.

"When people come to the support group I run, two weeks ago, three weeks ago. And they just don't know how they're going to make it to the next month. And being able to share how I've gotten here three years later. And them being at the end, 'this helped me.' That kind of makes it a little easier," Krautkramer said, her voice filled with emotion.