By Shereen Siewert

A petition promoting improved mental health programs in the wake of two student suicides at D.C. Everest High School, has so far attracted more than 1,300 signatures.

Renee Taylor, a senior at Everest, said she started the petition out of a strong desire to help her school make a difference through change. She has solid ideas, too, from allowing mental health and wellness days, to prompting teachers to check in on students and engaging with them in new ways.

One example is something she saw on TikTok, where teachers are prompting students to anonymously share one good thing and one bad thing about their day, opening the door to more conversation, understanding and support. Taylor said she also sees value in school days set aside for positive interaction in which students would watch movies, participate in scavenger hunts or participate in other activities that promote a sense of community and lessen pressures related to traditional classroom instruction

“I also talked to (school officials) about reducing homework and presentations because a lot of people gain stress from both, especially those who have a job after school and extracurricular (activities),” Taylor told Wausau Pilot & Review.

The petition is one of 62 on the platform in the wellness program category, which specifically relates to mental health in schools.

“The mental health of students nationwide is often overlooked,” according to “Between homework, pressure to succeed with high grades, complex social life, extracurricular activities, and more, students have much on their plates and often feel unsupported by school administration.”

Ellen Suckow, Secretary to the Superintendent and School Board, shared with Wausau Pilot & Review a letter sent to all D.C. Everest students and families informing them of the most recent death, outlining support services available at the school.

“It is incredibly sad for our Everest community to have experienced the tragic loss of two young lives in such a short time period,” the letter, signed by Principal Mike Raether, stated. “As parents and children, please talk to one another about what has happened. It is important for all of us to connect with one another and to reach out for assistance if you need support.”

Many experts agree that addressing mental health needs in schools is critically important, but educators and administrators face significant challenges in doing so. The Association of Children’s Mental Health points to data from the U.S. Surgeon General that show as many as one in five youth have an emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder while one in ten young people have mental challenges severe enough to impair how they function at home, school or in the community.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, students with these conditions face significant barriers to learning and are less likely to graduate from high school.

The NASSP outlines key responsibilities of school leaders: Creating a safe, nurturing school environment, supporting the physical and mental health of children, fostering their social and emotional well-being and being prepared to address teen suicide through effective communication and support.

But the group acknowledges that schools often have limited capacity to address mental health issues.

With increased accountability for academic results under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and subsequent regulations, school counselors—who represent the majority of student support professionals in schools—have seen their responsibilities shift away from the overall personal, social, emotional, academic, and career development of each student toward an academic achievement-only focus, creating a rapidly widening gap in support services,” NASSP officials state.

By the 2014–15 school year, there was one school counselor for every 482 students nationwide. The recommended ratio from the American School Counseling Association is one school counselor for every 250 students, while data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights indicates that one in five high schools lack a school counselor altogether.

According to the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, death by suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 10–14 and the second leading cause of death in children ages 15–19. Close to one in five high school students has considered suicide, and 2 to 6 percent of children attempt suicide, the coalition suggests.

And the challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic, when schools closed and students had fewer resources available to them, according to health officials.

Many students who signed the petition say they feel they are not being heard when they need help – and they’re encouraging the district to do more.

“The past couple years especially have corroded the mental stability of students around the world,” wrote former D.C. Everest student Taylor Harris. “We should have been taking action to improve the mental health care done in schools so long ago. It’s upsetting that students lose their lives before anything is done; I encourage everyone who sees this petition to sign and help make a change.

Others expressed their support and applauded students for their courage in speaking up.

“I am in awe of those who have signed here- your bravery impresses me,” wrote Rachel Zentner. We should take a moment and honor all here who publicly have broken their silence to help bring about change. I stand with you.”

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, knowing the risk factors plays a key role in prevention. Prior suicide attempts, misuse of alcohol or other drugs, mental disorders, access to lethal means, knowing someone who died by suicide, social isolation, chronic disease or disability and lack of access to behavioral health care are all major risk factors related to suicide, the SPRC states.

Students at D.C. Everest can schedule individual sessions with a member of the students services team by clicking this link: or stopping in during normal school hours. 

Raether’s letter pledged the district’s ongoing support and listed phone numbers for counselors and social workers at the school.

“We will make every effort to support our D.C. Everest students and families during this time,” Raether’s letter reads. “As a community, this is a time we need to share compassion and kindness with one another. 

Warning signs: Courtesy of the National Suicide Prevention Helpline

Where to find help

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, there is help. Resources include:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Line, which operates 24/7: 800-273-8255
  • Lifeline Chat, online here
  • Dial 211 to access resources provided by the United Way 
  • The North Central Health Care Center 24-Hour Crisis Line: 715- 845-4326
  • The National Crisis Text Line at 741-741 

In the event of an emergency, dial 911.