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Illinois: Schools making "structural changes" to deal with mental health problems

Aug 23, 2018, Chicago Tribune: Teens are anxious and depressed, and turning to the school nurse for help. But most Illinois schools don’t have one Traut, who has been the school nurse for Libertyville District 128 for 14 years, wasn’t surprised when the student eventually revealed that he had a history of mental health issues and was taking prescription pills to treat anxiety. It’s a scene that school nurses are expecting many times over as the new year opens, reflecting both the growing number of mental health issues among school-age children, and how the traditional role of school nurses has evolved from cleaning up playground scrapes and taking temperatures to meet the needs of this growing population…. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 20, or 2.6 million, U.S. children ages 6 to 17 had current anxiety or depression diagnosed by a health care provider in 2011-12. School nurses in Illinois say the increase is evident in the students from elementary to high school who enter their offices each day, requiring not only bandages and ice packs but also a quiet space to break from stress. Nurses now have to schedule meetings with parents about their child’s mental health histories and needs, then learn the side effects and potential complications associated with mood-altering medications. To meet the new demands, school nurses are offered extra training in mental health as well as resources from the National Association of School Nurses. They are adding relaxation rooms to the typical beds in the nurse’s office, and they have had to develop detailed cooperation plans with school guidance counselors and social workers, who are trained to handle such issues but, for better or worse, are not always the first stop for students seeking a nurturing response in a school building…. Despite these efforts, local and national school nurse associations worry that they are outnumbered by the number of students in need of their help. Today, there are only 700 school nurses in the Illinois Association of School Nurses — working at 3,796 public schools across the state…. “I think we need to advocate for more school nurses in our buildings,” said Traut, who also serves as a director to the National Association of School Nurses. “There’s definitely a trend that we are taking care of more students with actual diagnoses, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, panic attacks, panic disorders.”… While many schools and districts have social workers and psychologists on staff, students tend to think of the nurse’s office as the first stop to get the attention they need. In turn, nurses, social workers and psychologists at schools today work closely together to make sure a student gets continued care. The prevalence of mental-health issues has prompted structural changes at Stagg and other schools. Three years ago, district officials allowed Vollinger and other school staff to create an “intervention” classroom located between the nurse’s office and the guidance counselor’s office. The classroom is designed to help both students who have been out of class for disciplinary reasons and those who have had mental-health-related absences transition back to the daily routine in a more nurturing setting than being thrust back into busy hallways and full classrooms…. While such classrooms were unheard of even a decade ago, they are becoming more common across the state as schools recognize the adjustments needed to address students’ growing mental health needs…. Elementary school nurses are also encountering students with mental health needs. …

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