Confronting an Alarming Statistic in the Inland Empire


One Team's Look for Methods to Youth Suicide Rates Highlights the Research Experience at CGU

The phone call arrived late 2021.

The Corona-Norco Unified School District was alarmed with a growing quantity of suicides-of students, intermediate students, even some in elementary grades. The district was addressing the crisis but wanted to do more, therefore it turned to one of the region's foremost experts in social and environmental influences on health-related behavior.

\”I said I could not predict that we had the solution, but if we entered into this program of discovery together, we'd try to look for a method to mitigate a few of the causes,\” says Andy Johnson, professor and founding dean of the university's School of Community & Global Health. \”I told them we were likely to perform some experimenting with the science as we know it, do some adaptations and some novel things, some of which may prove useful.\”

It's called translational research, which is fundamentally of great importance and of CGU's research model.

\”We take from the best of science-what is learned and just what are promising strategies-put them into practice and study the impact,\” Johnson says. \”We identify where things work where they don't and then refine them.\”

Young People and Toxic Stress

With seed money from the contract using the school district, Johnson assembled a group, starting with some of CGU's faculty and students from public health, psychology, and evaluation.

They began the meticulous procedure for systems development and management, building measurement tools like surveys to evaluate and evaluate psychological factors associated with chronic stress. Additionally they explored how you can support teachers, who face stresses of their own and are sometimes the only positive heroines in certain students' lives.

Lucie Leung-Gurung, a doctoral student in community and global health, designed a few of the measurement instruments to evaluate psychological factors such as depression and impulsivity.

\”We looked at how toxic stress affects youth and at the high-impact positive factors which make them stronger,\” she says. \”We ensure that the surveys and biomarkers are evidence-based which what's designed works-finding the sweet location for just how much participants are willing to do. Therefore we measure the data.\”

Research in the duration of COVID-19

Tapping a network of educators and professionals built through decades of collaborative research, Johnson brought aboard colleagues and students from Loma Linda Medical Center, USC, UCLA, Western University of Health Sciences, and elsewhere to fill clinical needs, for example social work and nursing, that CGU doesn't provide.

They chose to focus initially on Auburndale Intermediate, a school that serves a community by which 63% of the residents live below or simply over the poverty line, where school is the only safe place for many students.

The team's chemistry with the principal and teachers was excellent, Johnson says, and social workers were imbedded at the begining of March to start the assessment. However with COVID-19 forcing the closure of schools, Johnson and the research team regrouped and transitioned to telehealth, utilizing a HIPPA-compliant form of Zoom to make sure privacy.

\”COVID has truly changed what we do,\” says Allison Maladore, an old teacher and principal who's in CGU's DPH (doctor of public health) program. \”We're working with teachers to recognize their challenges and stressors and also the frustrations of not being able to communicate with students within the ways they often do-or whatsoever. On their behalf, it was refreshing to have someone care about their mental well-being.\”

Participants have embraced telehealth, Johnson says, \”in part because we allow it to be very personal.\”

The isolation of quarantine, says Johnson, \”forces us to find workarounds that have lasting value.\”

The scientific studies are in early stages, however the initial findings are both sobering and inspiring.

In some instances, family relationships have frayed, depression increased, and certain types of substance use, such as vaping, have gone up. In others, family the relationship has improved during confinement in your own home, and students have embraced the outreach, including adding undergraduates from USC who're acting as mentors and tutors.

This fall, with additional contract funding, students in Johnson's systems engineering class are designing and refining the work they do while establishing referral protocols for the Corona-Norco students and families to tap other resources.

Johnson says that despite students return to the classroom, telehealth will stay part of the outreach.

\”We can perform an exam, and nobody notices a student has been pulled out of a classroom. He doesn't have to go to a mental health center, in which a friend might see him walk in or out. This is a big positive we've gotten out of this: Isolation forces us to locate workarounds that have lasting value.\”

Longer term, with additional contract or philanthropic funding, Johnson wants to continue serving the first number of students, as well as scale in the program to pay for all K-12 schools within the Corona-Norco district. But also, he hopes for a much larger impact.

\”We have converging missions,” he explained. “We share the district's passion, but the larger mission for academia would be to learn things and develop systems that are widely applicable.\”

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