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Mental health in schools: What you need to know
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Mental health: the emotional, psychological and social well-being of a person. For those who suffer, finding ways to combat these issues can be difficult, especially as a young person. Approximately one in five children ages nine to 17 have a diagnosable behavioral or emotional disorder, with the most common being anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorder, conduct disorders and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, according to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.

For those students in Liberty County, the Liberty County School System strives to offer mental health services for students in need.

Over the past two decades, a national movement has led to the expansion and development of school-based mental health services—due to the high prevalence of mental health conditions found among youth, according to The American Occupational Therapy Association.

Locally, LCSS partners with the Fraser Counseling Center to offer counseling and other resources at schools within the system.

According to the Every Student Succeeds Act—Georgia’s System of Continuous Improvement, Georgia educators are encouraged to focus on the whole child, to help students to succeed academically and behaviorally. It is recognized that students may need the help of outside agencies to enhance mental health and behavior functioning, and the lack of mental health services can impact the educational process for children.

“To support the students in need of mental health services,” Executive Director of Student Services Kathy Moody said, “the Liberty County School System entered into a contract with the Fraser Counseling Center, beginning January 2019 after advertising for a school-based youth mental health therapist.”

LCSS uses federal program funds to support their onsite mental health services, eliminating the need for FCC to bill insurance companies on behalf of parents, Moody said.

“Licensed therapists from FCC provide weekly school visits to conduct individual or group counseling for students following a referral from the school counselor and permission from parents and guardians,” she said.

In order to monitor each student’s progress, the therapists will seek feedback from teachers, parents and other school-based personnel. Those behavioral and emotional concerns will be addressed on a regular basis while the student is being served, Moody said.

All services provided through FCC will supplement, and not supplant services currently in place, Moody emphasized. All students will have access to prevention activities and those in question can be referred for early intervention activities. None of the school-based services through FCC will replace the assessment and treatment services offered by the school and central officer personnel, Moody continued.

LCSS also recognizes the need for youth mental health training for teachers, administrators and other essential school staff, Moody explained, so that the knowledge and information an educator receives during a youth mental health workshop can help him or her support a student during a time of crisis, or help identify symptoms a student is exhibiting that indicates a need for support.

In order to provide the training, the First District Regional Service Agency (RESA) offers youth mental health training opportunities for those educators in Liberty County and surrounding areas.

“In January 2019, two opportunities for training were offered for LCSS staff members during scheduled professional learning days,” Moody said. “The Question, Persuade and Report Gatekeeper Training was designed to teach gatekeepers the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to respond by following three steps: question the individual’s desire or intent; persuade the person to seek and accept help; and refer the person to appropriate resources.”

Another workshop offered, called Understanding the Impact of Trauma on Brain Development, provided the participants with foundational knowledge about how adversity and trauma can impact brain development, Moody said. The basis of the workshop introduced architecture and early brain development in children, and focused mainly on the impact of adverse experiences in child trauma on the brain.

“One of the more popular trainings offered to educators is the Youth Mental Health First Aid class,” Moody added. “The course introduces participants to common mental health challenges for youth, reviews what may be typical adolescent development and teaches participants how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations.”

Waldo Pafford Elementary School’s counselor, Dr. Necole Bryant-Baker, is a certified Youth Mental Health First Aid trainer, Moody said. Baker conducted a workshop for those interested in October 2018 during LCSS’s professional learning day.

 LCSS extended the offer to all school counselors, school social workers, and other LCSS staff members to participate in their upcoming Youth in Crisis workshop, sponsored by First District RESA May 8-10.

“This course provides information to trusted adults to help identify mental health disorders in youth and circumstances leading to crisis,” Moody continued.

Each year, LCSS conducts a youth mental health fair—inviting members of mental health agencies, school counselors and other LCSS staff to help educate parents on the community resources available. The most recent fair was Jan. 31 at the Liberty County Board of Education.

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