Trustee Eric Cowan Demands Dallas ISD Do More to Stop Middle School Suicide

Last night, Spence Middle School hosted a parent meeting to talk suicide. If you don't already know why, read Matthew Haag's article in The Dallas Morning News over the weekend: one student dead, three others who tried to take their own lives.

A few blocks away, Board President Eric Cowan pressed pause on Dallas ISD trustees' regular meeting to make an impassioned plea for expanded mental health services at middle schools, citing his own struggles with an unspecified "mental health disorder."

Cowan's speech, which Haag posted to YouTube, is worth your time.

I was a normal kid, grew up in a middle class family, had friends in church. Played football, had friends on the football team, in band and orchestra. I was never bullied, never got into fights -- just a normal kid. But my mind would take me into a dark corner, where I suffered in silence, not knowing what was wrong.

In junior high, I didn't want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. While I was at summer camp, an angel tapped me on the shoulder with a vision of my parents' faces in my head and I put away my Swiss Army knife back in my bag and cried myself asleep.

I can spend the next 10, 20 minutes talking about my struggles through college my 20s and 30s and -- every now and then -- even today. But I've talked enough about me. I'm not here to talk about me, I'm here to advocate for ... the four kids at Spence. I'm here to advocate for the 30 percent of adolescents who experience significant health, social, and emotional problems that affect their educational progress, and if I don't take this moment of time tonight while administrators are meeting with parents at Spence to use my position of influence to step out of my own shadow and highlight my own suffering story to highlight the needs of our kids who are suffering alone and who have nowhere to turn, if I don't take this moment of time, then I have failed as a community leader, and I've failed as a human being.

Here, he cites a 2011 New York Times article he'd distributed to his colleagues describing "wellness centers" established at schools in San Francisco and urged Dallas ISD to copy the program.

It's time to enhance our services...I'm asking you to form a task force of city, county, medical professionals to review our processes at [Dallas ISD's youth and family] centers and possibly not only enhance them but to expand to provide wellness centers, or at least wellness rooms, in all of our middle schools. Because I will tell you that a student suffering at Spence is not going to go to their parents, not going to go to their friends and say drive me to [Woodrow] Wilson so I can talk to somebody. Somebody suffering in silence may not know where to turn but if we have medical professionals in our buildings, certified qualified medical professionals who know how to engage in those campuses, then we might be able to stop another tragedy. Of course this will cost money, and I believe there are partners who will help us be more efficient. I appreciate what you've done tonight at Spence, but we're about five steps behind of what our kids need.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.