CHADS Coalition for Mental Health Programs – Educating & Helping Youth with Suicide Prevention

CHADS (Communities Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide) Coalition for Mental Health is on a mission to save young lives by advancing the awareness and prevention of depression and adolescent suicide. When this St. Louis nonprofit’s passion for and success with tackling this heavy reality became known to the Berges Family Foundation (BFF), the family knew they had to help.

“There is a mental health epidemic in our youth today. Some of it is born of depression and mental disorders, and perhaps some just from the 24-hour doom and gloom news cycle in which this generation has been raised. The fact is that too many children are dying by suicide, and often ‘we’ have no idea why or see the signs before it’s too late,” said Elizabeth Mannen Berges. “CHADS is making a real difference and we need to continue to support them as they work to stop teen suicide,” she said.

How CHADS is Saving Lives

Nobody likes to talk about suicide. However, it is the second leading cause of death for ages 10–34. Every year in St. Louis County, 1 in 18 middle and high school students (1 in every classroom) attempts suicide. In St. Louis Metro, 35 to 40 youth (15 to 24 years old) die by suicide, yearly. From 1999–2016, the suicide rate in Missouri increased by more than 36%.

Fortunately, through CHADS’ programs, there is hope for stopping this trend! Youth mental health and suicide prevention are being talked about in St. Louis area classrooms, removing the stigma and preventing suicides. Signs of Suicide (SOS®), Strategic Solution Focused Family Centered Counseling, and the Social and Emotional Well-being (SEW) mentoring program are making a huge impact. Through one-hour classroom talks in middle and high schools, in a typical year, CHADS reaches close to 60,000 kids.

“CHADS provides adolescents, classmates, friends, teachers, and families the skills for healthy coping and managing of the emotional overload that our children face. Most importantly, they make sure our kids know they are not alone! They turn classrooms into compassionate rooms full of kids who want to recognize the best in each other and recognize when a classmate might be hurting. They do this by taking on topics like, “bullying, peer pressure, and self-injury.” Once you give these words airtime, they lose their threatening power. Most importantly, CHADS works!” said Elizabeth.

Watch this short but powerful video as young adults tell their stories and about how the SOS program helped save their lives.

The CHADS Family Support program has clinicians embedded one day per week in 33 area middle schools and high schools, including schools in St. Louis County, St. Louis City, St. Charles County, and Jefferson County.

Berges Family Foundation Helps CHADS Provide Meaningful Data

CHADS Co-founder, Marian McCord, explains, “CHADS has always been really good about gathering data. With what we do, it’s important to track each type of interaction and outreach and the results of those interactions. However, for the first few years, we didn’t have the tools to use the data in the most impactful way. Thanks to the Berges Family Foundation’s support, CHADS was able to hire a part-time data analyst and implement software to pull some incredible reports with meaningful detail.

We can now provide schools with concise, clean visuals of exactly what CHADS has done in their district and how many children are being helped by the program. We can see how the programs are working, what needs to be improved, and the needs we should further address. This meaningful data advances the conversation and helps educators see how valuable and essential mental health education and suicide prevention are to their kids.”

Some of the most important data from the 2020–2021 COVID school year include CHADS’ therapists counseling 251 students over 2,786 sessions, 41% of whom were suicidal. Of those, 72.2% showed improvement. These are big numbers, numbers that represent children’s lives.

Marian commented, “During the pandemic, we had an increase in younger children, around fifth grade, reach out and express the need for help. Many were struggling emotionally, and a few were tiptoeing into depression and suicidal thoughts, so it was important to be able to help these kids and report that back to the schools.”

For every child who feels supported during his or her crisis and can see a way through the suffering without suicide, there is hope. For every child who is saved, a family and an entire community are spared the life-altering fallout that deeply affects and tragically scars everything and everyone affected by the inexplicable loss.

In the 2019-2020 school year, 6,312 (14.2%) students asked for help after an SOS presentation.

Children and Families Impacted by CHADS

The Signs of Suicide Program, SOS, is the only evidence-based program to show a reduction in suicide attempts. This program is shared in classrooms throughout St. Louis County, St. Louis City, St. Charles County, and Jefferson City.

2020–2021 COVID School Year

  • CHADS gave 1,115 middle and high school presentations (pre-COVID 2,568).
  • CHADS interacted with 21,949 students, teachers, and parents, (pre-COVID 59,711).
  • Of those interactions, 1,277 students, or 10.1%, asked for help (pre-COVID 14.8%).
  • There were 53 presentations per week during peak months (pre-COVID 83).
  • Presented in 111 schools (pre-Covid 183).
  • Presented to 11.1% of 5th through 12th-grade students in St Louis Metro (pre-COVID 24%).

Strategic Solution Focused Family Centered Counseling

Licensed clinicians provide Strategic Solution Focused Family Centered counseling to middle school and high school kids in crisis – those who are suicidal, depressed, anxious. Therapists utilize evidence-based processes, such as Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality, to assist these children. Eight to 12 sessions will typically get kids past their crises. If this is not enough, then they are referred for long-term care.

2020–2021 COVID School Year

  • 4 in-office student clients for a total of 38 children sessions
  • 51 in school clients for a total of 565 sessions in-person in 8 schools
  • 197 students/clients seen virtually for a total of 2,183 sessions. (pre-COVID 3,713 sessions per year).
  • 251 total clients (pre-COVID seeing 462 clients per school year).
  • 41% of the clients were suicidal.
  • 2% of suicidal clients showed improvement.

SEW (Social and Emotional Wellbeing)

Social Emotional Mentoring is targeted at elementary and middle school students having issues fitting in. There is individual coaching/mentoring on 5 Social Emotional Learning Competencies and lesson plans for 25 sessions, 5 for each competency.

2020–2021 COVID School Year

  • Mentoring in 24 schools, 204 mentoring clients, 97 students per week during peak months.
  • 74 in-school sessions, 2,307 virtually, 2,381 total mentoring sessions (pre-COVID 2764).
  • 9% show improvement in Social Emotional Competencies.

Through the data, one can see the impact of CHADS represented by numbers – but keep in mind, these numbers are children and young adults. Kids who may have been harboring thoughts of suicide but were given hope because they received the help they needed … Children who suffer from depression and anxiety, which when left unchecked, could lead to death. Preventable death.

These children and adolescents are the reason why Larry and Marian McCord started CHADS in 2005. To offer accessible help to kids who feel depressed, anxious, or suicidal. To get kids, teachers, parents, family members, and communities talking about these all-too-common feelings and remove the stigma from mental health issues. To save children’s lives.

80% of youth with mental illness are not identified and do not receive any mental health services.

The Story Behind CHADS Coalition for Mental Health …

Chad – The Young Man Saving Kids’ Lives

Chad McCord was an extraordinary teenager. He was in the top 15% of his high school class, won multiple sports awards, loved to volunteer, and was active in his church. He had an incredible future ahead, including playing soccer at a Division 1 school.

Then, in his senior year, Chad’s life was forever changed. He was diagnosed with depression, an anxiety disorder, OCD (obsessing to hurt himself), and rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Slowly, the illness took over Chad’s spirit, body, and mind. Chad lost hope and began seeing himself as a burden to all. His depression blinded him to his many gifts.

During treatment, Chad vowed when he got better to make a difference in people’s lives by bringing mental illness out of the closet. Chad McCord was 18 years old when he took his life, April 15, 2004. Chad left this world before fulfilling his dream to increase awareness and acceptance of mental illness. Chad’s parents, Larry and Marian McCord, vowed to be Chad’s voice. To learn more about this incredible young man and read his full story, go to his dedicated CHADS website page.

How You Can Help CHADS Reach More Youth & Change Lives

To continue to educate, build relationships with more St. Louis area children and young adults, remove barriers to mental health, be present in more schools, and help the children who are not yet being helped by their programs, CHADS Coalition for Mental Health needs your help.

There are many ways to get involved – spread awareness by scheduling parent and school staff presentations, become a volunteer, help organize a fundraiser, or attend their next important fundraising event – CHADS Illumination Ball on September 30, 2021.

Donations, funding, and grants are also greatly needed to help CHADS add licensed clinicians and therapists to the team so they can be in more schools and communities, and, ultimately, save more lives.

Be sure to go to the Community Resources page to see all the ways in which you can help CHADS make a difference. And if you or someone you know needs help with depression, anxiety, or has alluded to potential suicide, be sure to call CHADS right away: 314.952.8274