COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A Coeur d'Alene High School student hopes her story will continue to change the conversation on mental health and young people.
The district, meanwhile, said its in the midst of doubling down on its commitment to mental health services and suicide prevention.
Matea Dorame, a CDAHS freshman, said her concerns about mental well-being were met with laughter from some students during a freshman orientation class on Monday. During the class, according to Dorame, upperclassmen were discussing various CDAHS clubs and extracurricular activities with freshman.
"I raised my hand and I asked, 'Is there a mental health group?'" said Dorame. While the mood in the room was light at the time, Dorame said she was serious about her question. The 14-year-old said she's previously battled depression.
The question, however, drew chuckles from some of her peers, she said.
"A lot of the kids thought I was trying to be funny by asking the question, but I wasn't," Dorame said. "I was just a little disappointed in the reaction."
In an email sent to CDAHS families this week, principal Libbi Barrett acknowledged the incident.
"During a freshman class orientation on Monday, a student asked a thoughtful question about whether there is a student club supporting mental wellness at Coeur d’Alene High School," wrote Barrett. "It’s an important question that, unfortunately, was met with laughter from other students. In the moment, we missed an important opportunity to address the inappropriate response to the question, and to provide a complete answer for the benefit of all the students present."
Dorame said she doesn't want to dwell on what happened, however, and wants to continue conversations about mental health.
"I just want there to be less of a stigma and more people to speak out so stuff like that doesn't happen as much," she said.
Dorame's mother, Nicole, reiterated what her daughter said on Wednesday.
"As I talked with her, I just thought that this was an opportunity to bring more awareness. Let's turn this unfortunate situation that you went through into a positive one," Nicole Dorame said.
Both the district and CDAHS says they're already in the process of rolling out programs aimed at improving mental health services for students. As part of a $20 million a year levy passed by voters earlier this year, the district said its increasing mental health services along with student security.
"It's important to me personally because I care about every student in this building," said Barrett on Wednesday. Like fellow staff members and students, including Dorame, Barrett was wearing yellow in honor of national suicide prevention week.
For Barrett and other CHS staff, the issue hits close to home. In March 2018, then-CDAHS principal Troy Schueller committed suicide, blindsiding many at the school.
"That was a personal and professional tragedy for many of us," said Barrett of the death.
The district said Schueller's death and some student suicides across the area spurred funding for mental health services to be part of the district's most recent levy request.
Notably, CDA Schools has started implementing a national suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. According to the program's website, Sources of Strength uses "Peer Leaders to enhance protective factors associated with reducing suicide at the school population level." The program incorporates adult advisors too.
"The Sources of Strength program actually trains us to be trusted adults," said Barrett, adding that CDAHS's goal is to create a "safety net" for all students, especially those experiencing a mental health crisis.
According to Barrett's email, counselors visited freshman classes this week to "address the importance of mental health.'
"One thing that we feel is very important to share with children is that it will always get better and never, ever give up. You always have hope," Barrett said.
The following video is a report on a Coeur d'Alene elementary school getting a therapy dog.