Students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District showed improvement in their emotional and behavioral health over the past year as a result of mental health services provided by the Family Service Agency and the Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, according to district officials monitoring the progress.

The district had hired Erika Felix of the UC Santa Barbara Gevirtz Graduate School of Education to perform an external evaluation of the services.

According to the district, students who underwent counseling services showed a decline in suicidal thoughts afterward.

Those who received substance abuse counseling services also demonstrated “a reduction in the underlying emotional, social and behavioral risk factors associated with substance abuse, a significant decrease in relapse potential, and an increased readiness to change,” the district said.

Family Service Agency held 2,478 sessions in the past year for students and families in grades of seven through 12. CADA held another 795 sessions.

“The individual and group counseling services that were offered helped reduce clinical levels of depression,” Assistant Superintendent Frann Wageneck said. “Students were less likely to experience suicidal thoughts following their treatment.”

About 13 percent of high school students and 11 percent of junior high school students had seriously considered suicide in the past year, she added.

Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said the suicide rate nationally is about 10 percent to 12 percent of “our teens.”

Acknowledging “some challenges” during his three years on the job, he called the last academic year “a good year.”

“I don’t think we lost a student to suicide,” Matsuoka said.

“I have a quiet goal as a superintendent,” he added. “Can we please get through this year without losing a young person to a premature death?”

Matsuoka said the world has changed and so has education.

“We bear this burden of being mental health providers to our communities,” he explained. “That is not something that school districts took on 20 years ago. Today it is, and I am proud of our work, and we have to continue to invest in this space because our kids need it and our families need it.”

Wageneck said the district began tracking suicide attempts 2½ years ago and since then the rate has dropped 67 percent, with 22 attempts this past year from 64 the year before.

“Still 22 too many,” she said of the total.

Going forward, the district plans to coordinate academics with mental health services and increase efforts to educate students and their families that the programs and help exist.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at