JAMESTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa County schools are working to respond quickly and effectively when kids struggle with mental health using Corewell Health’s pilot Blue Envelope program.

“Overall, we are seeing a significant increase in not just the frequency and prevalence of mental health, we are also seeing the acuity,” Dr. Subodh Jain, a child psychiatrist with Corewell (formerly Spectrum Health), said. “People are much sicker and children are much more challenged with mental health issues both at school and in the home setting in the last two or three years.”

“Perpetual mental stress is a good predictor of future mental illness,” he said.

The Blue Envelope program was initially created to train hospital personnel to address and respond to suicidal patients. Jain said several school districts heard about the training and requested a similar module for teachers and staff.

By teaching school staffers how to safely de-escalate suicidal ideation, Jain said hospitals may be able to reduce stigma and life-threatening behavior.

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health and the Ottawa County Suicide Prevention Coalition were the first organizations to request the Blue Envelope training for schools. Since its inception, more than 14 counties have opted into the free, training module and more than 200 schools participate.

“We are seeing students both pre-pandemic and post-pandemic with mental health struggles,” said Melissa Bernard, the student services coordinator for Hudsonville Public Schools. “It’s a real thing.”

The training offers the S.A.F.E. method, which stands for stay, access, feelings and eliminate. Once a student discloses suicidal ideations, staff members are taught to stay with the student, access help, validate feelings and eliminate lethal risk.

“Last year, there were about a 1,000 Blue Envelope events — that means where the kid expressed suicidality,” Jain said. “Most of them were actually handled within the school system and not having to escalate any further.”

While some students or Blue Envelope events led to families seeking outside help and possible anxiety and depression prescriptions, the overall success had led to the de-stigmatization of mental health struggles, organizers say.

“It’s normalizing the word suicide and it’s normalizing in asking the question and being direct,” Bernard said. “I think we often skirt around it because it feels like a very intense word. But if we’ve learned anything from our training with Corewell, it’s that asking those direct questions allows us to intervene early.”