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With Christmas weeks away, counselors see an uptick in students asking for help

Harlandale ISD is launching a first-of-its-kind suicide prevention program just in time for the holiday season that can be difficult for many.

SAN ANTONIO — A San Antonio school district is leading the way in suicide prevention.

During the pandemic, rates of adolescent depression and anxiety doubled. That’s according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports emergency visits for suspected suicide attempts increased last year, particularly among girls.

“We tend to see an increase in students seeking support and help from counselors and social workers during the Christmas holiday,” said Joanna Lujan, the lead counselor at Harlandale Independent School District. “For some, especially those who have experienced grief, it’s a difficult time.” 

That's why a first-of-its kind program is bringing help into homes.

“We are the first district in Texas to implement this system,” Lujan said.

Harlandale ISD recently launched ‘Early Alert.' It’s a text message check-in service.

“The majority of the students have cell phones; they are always on their phones,” said Lujan. “[The system] asks students to rank their sleep, life satisfaction, physical state, cognitive memory, relationships, academic, financial and emotional wellbeing.”

The program was originally created for first responders and university students, but is now available to K-12 students.

Lujan oversees 38 counselors across the district. She says texting is just one more tool to engage students and save lives.

“Students will also receive text message reminders saying, ‘If you are worried about your safety or someone else’s safety, please call 9-1-1 or the suicide prevention lifeline,’” Lujan said.

Safety concerns are monitored 24/7. If a student is in crisis, Lujan says Harlandale ISD and emergency personnel will be contacted. Otherwise, the data collected remains confidential.

“That information collected will go into a dashboard,” she said. “We will learn about student needs and tailor counseling or group lessons.”

Grade 6-12 students at Harlandale ISD can now register. Parents can also demo the program. Those interested are encouraged to reach out to their respective school counselor.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, dial 9-8-8 for the Suicide and Crisis Prevention Lifeline.

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