Tuesday, 26 January 2021 20:47

Suicide, depression top concerning topics in Richmond County students' emails

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Dr. Wendy Jordan discusses the top concerning topics from student emails during Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. Dr. Wendy Jordan discusses the top concerning topics from student emails during Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET— Nearly 40 percent of flagged emails from Richmond County students mention either suicide or depression, according to Dr. Wendy Jordan.


Jordan, director of student services for Richmond County Schools, announced the revelation during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting as part of her presentation on opening schools back up.

This particular part of her presentation dealt with the emotional and mental health of students, something the district has been monitoring since 2017.

“I thought it was important to kind of highlight the other factors that are influencing students,” she told the board.

The statistics came from an email-monitoring service.

The service, Jordan said, intercepts emails exchanged between students that may be cause for concern and sends them to her and the director of information technology.

“It never makes it to the intended recipient, it’s intercepted ahead of time if there are certain flags,” Jordan said.

According to Jordan, she received very few notifications last year.

But from September through Jan. 11, there were 118 reports.

The two most prevalent topics were suicidal ideation (20.3%) and anxiety/depression (19.5%).

The third-most flagged content (14.4%) was sexually oriented, Jordan added.

“That’s either students talking back and forth to one another or it might be talking to someone from an outside source,” the latter of which the district is unable to track, she said, “which is concerning as well.”

A graph in Jordan’s report also showed the following topics and percentages:

  • Cheating (on school work) - 7.6%
  • Parental Conflict - 6.8%
  • Alcohol or Drugs - 6.8%
  • Self-harm - 4.2%
  • Family Conflict - 4.2%
  • Personal Conflict - 4.2%
  • Other (including bullying, domestic abuse at home) - 11.9%

When asked for clarification, Jordan said this only applies to the schools’ email server, whether on a personal device or school-provided device. If students discuss these topics through Gmail or Yahoo or social media, the district doesn’t have access.

Once Jordan receives the emails, she forwards them to principals and counselors to be handled at the school level.

Jordan can’t verify that the depression- and suicide-related emails are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she does believe there is a correlation.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Clark County, Nevada, which has a similar monitoring system, had 3,100 alerts and 18 suicides between March and December.

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in September 2020 shows that yearly suicide deaths in North Carolina among those aged 10-24 increased from 129 in 2000 to 202 in 2018.

“The mental health component, I think, is pretty huge, that we can’t ignore and I think everybody acknowledges that,” Jordan said, adding that it has been a focus among educators since before the pandemic.

“I think this has certainly exacerbated the problem and certainly highlighted the issue of mental health and the de-stigmatization of mental health and seeking help,” Jordan added, saying she’s glad RCS has the email monitoring service.

(Note: The lede of this story was re-written to more accurately reflect the topic. 9:09 p.m.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 January 2021 21:26