As part of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Youth Opportunity Initiative, Public Health–Seattle & King County (PHSKC) is partnering with the City of Seattle Human Services Department, Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP), and Parks & Recreation to host six student interns during the Summer of 2017. A Health Educator with the School-Based Partnerships Program at PHSKC will supervise and mentor the six interns who are joining us from Garfield High School, Cleveland High School, and Seattle Central College.
Fourteen percent of Seattle middle and high school students considered suicide in the past 12 months, and that rate is significantly higher for students of low socio-economic status and students of color. Not surprisingly, high depression scores are also associated with low academic achievement, high scholastic anxiety and poor peer and teacher relationships. Yet we know from national data that only about one third of youth who need treatment receive it. In particular, African American youth are more likely to have unmet mental health care needs than are white youth. The stigma associated with a mental health issue deters many families from seeking care in the community, as do more general access issues such as transportation, convenience of hours for working parents, the need for regularly occurring appointments, and a lack of culturally-relevant care.
School Based Health Centers (SBHCs) are a widespread national model with a proven track record for reducing disparities in health service accessibility. Adolescents are 21 times more likely to make a mental health visit to a SBHC than to a community site. Seattle’s SBHCs have also been rigorously evaluated and shown to have a measureable impact on the academic achievement of the students they serve. Of all SBHC users, African American males represent about 9% of all users, but across all schools served, this number is greater than 10%. SBHCs continue to serve more female patients (59%) than males, and innovative strategies are needed to outreach to and educate male youth of color about suicide prevention and the availability of SBHC mental health services.
The six student interns working with PHSKC will act as peer educators and will develop health education and outreach materials focusing on suicide prevention and the reduction of risk factors in their community. In partnership with SYEP, the peer educators will reach nearly 700 middle and high school students, with emphasis on African American males and males of color at high schools located in Central and South Seattle. After the completion of the summer program, students may continue their role engaging boys of color in their schools and acting as champions and leaders, by working with the PHSKC Health Educator on peer education and continued outreach in their schools. Peer educators will have the opportunity to learn about career options in Public Health through job shadow and engagement with several Public Health programs as well.