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Scottsbluff, NE: MORE student mental health problems come from home/greater awareness

Dec 27, 2019, Scottsbluff (NE) Star Herald: As student mental, behavioral health needs increase, schools must provide more services https://www.starherald.com/news/local_news/as-student-mental-behavioral-health-needs-increase-schools-must-provide/article_79c725e8-ce99-502a-b8b4-28ec388a341b.html These days, students carry more than the weight of textbooks and Chromebooks in the backpacks on their shoulders. To address the growing need for mental and behavioral health needs of students, school systems have implemented resources and strategies to help students be more successful in the classroom. “Our teachers are facing greater and greater challenges with today’s students than ever before, and one of those is certainly in the area of mental health,” Educational Service Unit 13 Administrator Andrew Dick said. “As we learn more and more about the topic of mental health, it’s very clear that students who suffer from mental health issues need a great deal of support, just as somebody who has a physical health diagnosis. That mental health is equally important, whether that be in the area of depression, anxiety, something that they’re struggling with that’s making it challenging to learn and be successful in the school system. Teachers need support and assistance working with and educating those students as well.” Wendy Kemling, Scottsbluff Public Schools (SPS) director of curriculum and instruction, has kept benchmarks about safety and security across the district as well as the benefits of introducing mental health therapists into the buildings. … Dick said the need for licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs) and social workers in the school comes from a combination of students dealing with more outside issues as well as people becoming increasingly more aware of mental health risks. “I think there are societal factors that have contributed to an increased prevalence of mental health,” Dick said, “whether those societal issues be drugs, alcohol, broken homes, other factors within the home that have contributed to suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety. … I think there’s definitely societal factors that contribute to that, but I also think that, just like the other health issues, physical or mental, we’ve become more knowledgeable through research and awareness, and we’re identifying those health issues earlier and more often.” Since SPS began studying behavior and mental health in the schools, the number of threat assessments conducted continues to increase. During the 2016-17 academic year, the district reported 10 threat assessments. For 2017-18, the number rose to 21 and for the 2018-2019 school year, the number was 29 assessments, a nearly three-fold increase over the course of the threat assessment reporting. Students suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts are more likely to be at risk. Dick explained that awareness of mental health issues also dovetails into school safety…. During the 2016-17 school year, SPS conducted 46 suicide assessments. That number jumped to 102 in 2017-18 before falling slightly to 74 in 2018-19, roughly one every two days for a typical academic year of 175 school days. “We tracked 46 and then we did some significant training, so I don’t know if this number is as accurate as it should be,” Kemling said. “In 2017-18, we did 102 and in 18-19, we did 74. Although there was a decrease here, the intensity of these was an increase.”… With therapists in every building, and teachers going through two-hour suicide assessments annually, Kemling said each building has established effective ways to communicate needs of students without jeopardizing their privacy. If a teacher notices something out of the ordinary, they will send a note to a school counselor, who pulls the student out of class. “That student is not left alone,” Kemling said. “Then a team conducts a risk assessment and may contact the parents as they determine the level of emergency.” Students can also report threats about their friends and themselves. Regardless of who the threat information comes from, Kemling said every one is taken seriously and immediately responded to to ensure the safety of the student involved. Kemling said the level of threats increased over the course of the last two years, despite the number decreasing. At the current rate, Kemling said the district will be under 74 suicide risk assessments, but that could change over the next several months. January and February have historically been months where the number of threat assessments increase in the district because some of the students lost friends during that time frame…. SPS, ESU 13 and Sen. John Stinner worked together to introduce the Panhandle Beginnings Act in the Nebraska Legislature in an attempt to capture funds to help establish more assistance for students with needs. ESU 13 has applied for grants to help with startup costs for a proposed Panhandle Beginnings Day Treatment Day School Program, designed specifically for students having mental health issues and challenges. “They would be in their own day treatment program,” Dick said. “We would have a psychologist, licensed mental health practitioners, teachers, counselors so we can still hopefully keep them moving along with their academics as well as provide them the much-needed support they need to manage their mental health. The goal would be to reintegrate them back into the school system.”… “I hope that we can generate a much greater awareness for people in the community, people in the school system, elected officials about the growing need and the challenges the schools face with students suffering from mental health,” he said.