After decline, suicide risk assessments of Cherry Creek students return to pre-pandemic levels

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GREENWOOD VILLAGE | After declining during the pandemic due to online learning, the number of suicide risk assessments conducted on Cherry Creek Schools students has returned to pre-pandemic levels this school year.

Steve Nederveld, the district’s director of community partnerships for crisis intervention, gave a presentation on behavioral health at Cherry Creek’s Monday evening school board meeting, highlighting changes over the past two years.

Suicide risk assessments are conducted by a school’s mental health team after a student has been flagged for potential suicidal ideation. Referrals come in a number of ways, including students directly approaching staff members with suicidal ideation or teachers raising concerns.

The results of the assessment determine whether the student in question will be referred to receive some type of mental health treatment from a district or outside professional, chief health officer Michelle Weinraub told The Sentinel.

From the 2010-2011 school year to the 2018-2019 school year, the number of suicide risk assessments rose every year, Nederveld said, rising to a total of 2,215 in 2018-2019.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to an “immediate drop” in assessments, dropping by 24% from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020, and 41% from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021.

To date, the district has conducted 1,049 suicide risk assessments in the 2021-2022 school year according to district data, lower than the several years before the pandemic but “back to similar levels as prior to COVID” according to a presentation Nederveld shared with the board.

In response to a question from a board member, he said about 3%-4% of screened students were referred to some kind of emergency services.

Threat assessments took a similar trajectory, according to district data. The number of assessments rose eightfold between 2012-2013 and 2018-2019, and dropped by about a third the following year. The district has conducted about 700 threat assessments so far this school year, Nederveld said.

Nederveld said that the decrease was likely due to the fact that because of online learning students were not having as much face-to-face interaction with teachers and other staff, not that they weren’t actually experiencing behavioral problems during that time.

Youth mental health issues have been an ongoing source of concern throughout the pandemic, with Children’s Hospital Colorado declaring a “state of emergency” last year.

Mental health advocates have raised the alarm about the lack of mental health treatment options in the state for young people, a problem Nederveld echoed.

“We keep hearing of more inpatient programs or day treatment programs closing their doors,” he said.

In response, the district has increased the amount of its own resources it is dedicating to mental health, and has plans underway to build a $15 million mental health day treatment facility for students in partnership with a local health provider.

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available on Colorado’s crisis hotline. Call 1-844-493-TALK(8255)

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