Suicidal thoughts, planning and attempt rates for 10th graders in southcentral Kentucky were among the highest in the state last year.

That’s according to the Kentucky Incentives for Prevention State and Regional report, which surveyed 128,759 sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade students on a wide range of drug abuse and related issues.

For Sheila Barnard, a prevention specialist with LifeSkills, the high rates aren’t a surprise. Between training school staff and educating students, she and other LifeSkills employees are on the front lines of local suicide prevention efforts.

“People need to be educated so that they can look for the signs and symptoms and then try to do something to deter those,” Barnard said, adding that early intervention can save lives.

Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. die from suicide annually, or 1 person every 13 minutes, according to the KIP report. Among high school students, more than 17 percent – about 2.5 million ninth through 12th graders – have seriously considered suicide. More than 13 percent have made a suicide plan and more than 8 percent have attempted to take their lives.

In Kentucky, the survey found, 15.7 percent of the state’s 10th graders reported having suicidal thoughts within the previous year.

The southcentral Kentucky LifeSkills region reported the second highest rate of suicidal ideation among 10th graders, jumping from 13.2 percent in 2016 to 19.7 percent in 2018. The region includes schools in Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Metcalfe, Monroe and Simpson counties, but Warren and Logan counties had zero participating school districts.

Southcentral Kentucky was also a state leader in numbers of students reporting they had either planned or attempted suicide during the previous 12 months.

Barnard, who regularly works with schools to coordinate prevention programming, sees this year’s passage of Senate Bill 1 as a positive.

The school safety legislation passed in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Marshall County stresses adding more school counselors, expanded suicide awareness and prevention training and anonymous school safety reporting tools, among other changes.

“This legislation that has been passed is really going to help,” Barnard said.

The legislation lacks funding for the school safety improvements it requires, however.

Todd Hazel, director of student services at Warren County Public Schools, said his district has already been implementing some of the practices the bill highlights.

The eight mental health counselors and two social workers the school district employs “have been through district funds,” he said, adding the district plans to add two more social workers and an additional counselor through grants.

Since adding a tool for reporting bullying a few years ago, Hazel estimated the district has received between 3,000 and 4,000 comments seeking help with such issues.

“We’re trying to be as proactive as possible to meet the needs of our students before it becomes an issue,” Hazel said.

Hazel points to social media and the constant bullying that can come with it as one potential factor influencing the high suicide ideation, planning and attempt rates in the region. The days of leaving a bully behind at school are over, he said.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, shares that view, hoping the new legislation means students will have more supportive voices in their lives, both in and outside of school.

Should communities wait until students are referred to a school counselor, “I worry that it may be too late,” he said.

The full Kentucky Incentives for Prevention State and Regional report is online with this story at

– If you are thinking about suicide, or are worried about a loved one, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit


Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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