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Washtenaw County Public Schools

Washtenaw County Public Schools (WISD) and the Depression Center run a collaborative initiative for depression awareness and suicide prevention education, training, and support for WISD personnel. Through presentations, evidence-based workshops, educational materials, and follow-up support as needed, WISD personnel participating in this initiative:

  • learn the warning signs of depression
  • understand why depression occurs (helping to de-stigmatize the illness)
  • improve their ability to identify students who may be at risk for depression and/or suicide
  • recognize appropriate next steps such as identifying local resources for mental health treatment and support.

The initiative is designed to:

  • Address the need for early recognition of depression, bipolar disorder and risk for suicide among youth
  • Educate teachers, counselors, and other “front line” personnel working with young people to raise their awareness and knowledge of depressive and bipolar illnesses and suicide risk factors, and
  • Provide professional development to school personnel using a “train-the-trainer” model, so that staff members in each school will be qualified to train their colleagues in suicide prevention techniques.

Donations from hundreds of individuals in Ann Arbor and surrounding communities, raised by the Depression Center Community Volunteer Board, provided seed money for the initial year of the project, begun as a pilot in July 2007. In addition to these fundraising efforts, proceeds from several ongoing memorial funds established at the Depression Center were redirected to this project at the request of family members who had suffered the loss of a child to suicide.

Project Rationale

The average age of onset of clinical depression and bipolar disorder is between 15 – 24 years. Those who experience depression at an early age often struggle with depression throughout their lives, and in many cases, early onset of depression predicts more severe depression during adulthood. Therefore, recognizing depression as early as possible is a critical step in reducing the burden of depression later in life.

Successful early identification and treatment of depression can lead to many other positive health and behavioral outcomes for young people, such as increased educational attainment, decreased suicidal and self-injurious behavior, and decreases in harmful substance use. Increased awareness of depression among this age group is the first step toward implementing effective intervention.

Progress to Date

Much has been accomplished during this collaboration.  Over 500 staff members have participated in training and education workshops, including middle and high school principals, nearly all of the WISD middle school staff members, and all staff members from three of our six high schools. In addition, Depression Center’s ongoing “Bright Nights Community Forum” series, in collaboration with the Ann Arbor District Library, has offered parent education sessions at two of the high school buildings. 

In the fall of 2009 we added a new component to the program: A depression education and awareness campaign for high school students built on the premise that teens are more likely to listen to their friends than to well-meaning adults. The goals of the Peer to Peer Depression Awareness Campaign project are to 1) educate high school students about depression and depressive illnesses, and then 2) support them in finding creative ways to convey this knowledge to their peers in order to reduce stigma, raise awareness, and ultimately, help to promote the early detection of depression, bipolar disorder, and related illnesses. 

The Depression Center and the Ann Arbor Public Schools look forward to continuing this comprehensive initiative in the coming years, with the goal of training all WISD personnel; building a sustainable infrastructure by educating WISD staff to become workshop facilitators; and expanding the education program to include additional information for parents, an expanded educational campaign for students, as well as a research and evaluation component for the overall project. For more information, please contact Stephanie Salazar at


This educational partnership is made possible by the generous donations of many individuals in the Ann Arbor community.