KALISPELL - Kalispell native Ben Dorrington was recently hired as Kalispell Public Schools' new Health, Wellness and Suicide Prevention Specialist.
Counselors at Kalispell’s’ Flathead High School spoke to MTN News about mental health challenges facing students and how the community can help.
“It’s mind-boggling, I don’t know how they keep up with it,” said Flathead High School Counselor Micahel Sherman.
Kalispell school counselors believe anxiety is at an all-time high and in-person social interactions at an all-time low as a large portion of students identify themselves through social media.
“You try to tell them, well if you’re getting harassed on social media, if you’re not liking what’s going on don’t go on that platform, turn off your phone, just shun it, keep it at bay, they can’t seem to do that,” said Sherman.
Flathead High School counselors Michael Sherman and Chelsea Cattelino are two of four counselors at the school working with 1,500 students.
Cattelino said kids come to her with social media anxiety and concerns constantly.
“But I think they’re feeling like they can’t ever step away from it and take a break and that’s the big difference between pre-social media and cellphone and now, is that kids just can’t escape it,” said Cattelino.
Cattelino said it’s not just kids on social media, but parent’s causing major concern as online discourse can be mean, nasty and downright dangerous for kids to absorb.
“Kids and teenagers are sponges and they soak up what they’re exposed to, and I think as adults we’re still learning social media and how to properly use it and how to be responsible, and when that goes off the rails kids see that and accept it as this is what adults do, so therefore this is what I can do,” added Cattelino.
The Kalispell School District saw an increase in youth suicides in 2021, sending shockwaves across the community.
Hearing directly from students, both Cattelino and Sherman said kids want to be more open to adults when discussing youth suicides, keeping the dialogue going instead of turning a blind eye.
“If someone would just ask me if I was OK, if I was thinking about suicide and asked that tough question, that goes a long way just to deal with what somebody is going through,” said Sherman.
“They just want to talk about it, they want it to not be something that’s covered up or seen as a scary topic, it’s a sad topic for sure but they want to feel like they can go to the adults in their lives, whether it’s here at school or outside at home and in the community and have those tough conversations,” added Cattelino.
Sherman said it will take a total community team effort to see change develop.
“Youth issues shouldn’t be just the school’s responsibility, we’re a big piece of that puzzle but we need help from outside, it’s a community problem, it’s a community effort, it should be anyways," said Sherman.
If you or someone you know is dealing with emotional pain or suicidal thoughts, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text “Hello” to 741741, which is the Crisis Text Line. More resources can be found here.
Additional information is available online from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
- Crisis Text Line - A free, 24/7 text line for people in crisis. Text "MT" to 741 741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Montana Suicide Prevention Information and Resources