News Article Details

Local collaborative focusing on mental health in schools

Times News - 3/13/2019

March 13-- Mar. 13--A local school-based collaborative is taking proactive steps in bettering the mental health of the county's youth population.

Representatives from Henderson County Public Schools, Blue Ridge Health and Crossnore School and Children's Home presented statistics and efforts at the Henderson CountyBoard of Health meeting Tuesday.

Matt Gruebmeyer, director of Student Services with HCPS, offered several figures from the National Alliance on Mental Health, including that one in five children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness in their lifetime.

With a large portion of that age range represented in the school system population, Gruebmeyer said staff members from teachers to specialists are teaming up to make sure they notice key behaviors and what steps to take.

Early invention is key, he explained, and that includes training teachers and staff on mental health warnings signs.

"Just like early intervention can help a child learn to read, early intervention for those that might develop a mental illness is important in preventing the onset of symptoms," Gruebmeyer said.

Crisis intervention work has included new processes and protocols that allow individuals in a student's life to more easily work together in an evidenced-based approach, he added.

Gruebmeyer said he frequently hears from high school principals about students discussing suicidal ideation, and noted that one of the leading causes of death for those ages 15-24 is suicide.

Students experiencing mental health problems also have a higher risk of dropping out of school, and it can be more difficult for the education process to work effectively for those battling other issues, Gruebmeyer explained.

"We know from an educational standpoint the effects are very significant," he added.

Bringing on more mental health experts, through organizations like Crossnore and Blue Ridge Health, is part of the effort to tackle the growing issue.

Linda Davidson, medical director of Behavioral Health with BRH, said the behavioral health service needs in schools are due to a variety of factors. They can stem from the effects of childhood trauma, an increase in substance abuse disorders, and the rise of child anxiety and depression.

BRH received a school safety grant to provide crisis services to students at all county schools, Davidson explained. Work on the collaboration started earlier this year, but discussions have been in the works for some time.

Through BRH, one licensed clinical social worker is responding to grades 9-12, and another is to work with kindergarten through 8th grade.

The services started in January with one social worker. In February the social worker had 22 crisis calls, which Davidson said was an unusually high number, and likely more than she saw in her first two years at BRH.

"Sadly, it is not unusual to see suicidal and homicidal ideation in our children," Davidson said.

Additionally, BRH has three licensed clinical social workers and one licensed professional counselor providing services in five local schools: Sugarloaf Elementary, Bruce Drysdale Elementary, Hillandale Elementary, Apple Valley Middle and North Henderson High.

On average they provide between 200 to 250 student visits per month, according to Davidson.

The crisis home base for the social workers will be Dana Elementary and Rugby Middle, and Innovative High Schools and East Henderson High.

Reasons for the increase in mental health issues in youth are wide ranging, Davidson explained. They can include trauma, social media and bullying, but it isn't that simple or easy to pinpoint, she added.

Tanya Blackford, regional director for Crossnore, which opened a Hendersonville office last year, explained many of the efforts are preventative in nature.

Trauma-focused therapists are working with students both at the schools and the Crossnore office.

Schools with on-site therapists include Hendersonville High, East Henderson High, West Henderson High, Hendersonville Middle and Fletcher, Clear Creek, Upward and Mills River elementaries.

There are also students reviving services at Flat Rock Middle, Innovative High Schools and Rugby Middle at the Crossnore office on Fifth Avenue.

Blackford emphasized that children are being referred for a variety of reasons.

"These services are trying to build skills in kids so they are able to be present and learn as much as they can, while still addressing stressors and what is going on at home," Blackford explained.

All three speakers expressed the need for shared efforts, which includes the family and the child.

Board member Graham Fields with AdventHealth commended the collaborative work and emphasized that it's unique in nature.

"What you are doing is really special and we don't take that for granted," he said.

Chairman Pete Richards described the presentation as eye opening.

In other business, board member and Henderson County Commissioner Bill Lapsley gave an update about the county's substance abuse task force, which wrapped up a few weeks ago after six meetings.

A plan will be presented to commissioners in the near future and includes suggestions on where to put funding and tasks for different organizations in the community with addressing the increasing local substance abuse problem.

"We have to work together to have success," Lapsley said.

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(c)2019 Times-News, Hendersonville, N.C.

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