CICERO, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The pandemic amplified the ongoing challenge of suicide and mental health issues among young people.

“There’s such a stigma about speaking about mental health and being able to say that ‘Hey, this is a bad day, this is how I’m feeling.'”

Hannah Boyle, 12th grade student at Cicero-North Syracuse High School

In September, the district started a pilot program ‘Suicide Safety in Schools’ with Contact Community Services to make it easier to talk about.

“Anytime we talk with students, we always try to encourage them to identify who is a trusted adult within this building,” said Kristen Stanton, the School Based Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator at North Syracuse Central School District. “Who is someone within your school that you could go to and talk to if you’re concerned about something?”

They’re also asked to identify those people in their family and community. Recently, more than 2,000 students in grades 8-12 were surveyed about all aspects of their wellness during the pandemic and 37% said they struggled the most emotionally.

“It’s staggering,” Superintendent Dan Bowles said of the survey results.

This was a concern for Superintendent Bowles well before the pandemic. In the 2019-2020 school year, two students in the district died by suicide.

“The impact was significant. And the district’s response has been, we’ve added just for the district in the last four years, more than 10 positions between counselors, social workers and therapists to make sure that there’s someone available when there’s a student in crisis.”

Dan Bowles, North Syracuse Central Schools Superintendent

Adding this pilot program brings even more awareness.

“I think by implementing these programs, it’s really a way for people to understand they’re not alone.”

Sam Klein, 11th grade student at Cicero-North Syracuse High School

It’s provided at no cost. Contact is looking to expand to other districts.

“I have the ability to work with any school district in any school in Onondaga County,” explained Will DeSantis, the Suicide Safety in Schools Mental Health Educator. “That would be supporting the needs of students, staff or parent engagement and working with families.”

Contact Community Services is currently seeking funding to continue providing this training in schools.

If you are struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255.