The Guam Department of Education has been urged to improve its procedures in addressing possible suicides within its student population.
Marie Virata Halloran, executive director of Rainbows for All Children Guam/LifeWorks, said it takes too long for GDOE to decide whether a suicidal child should be referred to qualified psychologists and clinicians.
She said that it shouldn’t take five to 10 sessions before a child is recommended for outside help. Upon the first signs of red flags for suicide, Halloran said school counselors should immediately refer children to more experienced mental health experts outside school.
“Time is very essential. You cannot buy time and say another seven more sessions. From my past experience, children, when you ask them ‘are you okay?’ … they will always say they’re okay. But in your heart you know that they are not,” Halloran said during Tuesday’s visual roundtable on GDOE conducted by Sen. Telena Cruz’s education committee.
She added that school counselors are not licensed mental health screeners who can diagnose suicidal students.
GDOE District Psychologist Nadine Cepeda agrees that school counselors are not qualified to diagnose suicidal situations because they’re not mental health professionals.
However, she said GDOE does not wait for 10 sessions before referring kids to Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center.
“Psychologists, school counselors, and teachers all play a role. It is important for all of us to take part in this. That’s why partnerships are so important. We must work hand in hand,” Cepeda said.
For her part, Sen. Nelson said she is aware that GDOE only has four district psychologists and she plans to address this.
In addition, it was pointed out that GBHWC sometimes also has a backlog of cases.
According to GBHWC, suicide is the 6th leading cause of death on Guam, and that an average of one person dies every eight days.