Volusia students slow to access expanded mental health services
News-Journal - 5/6/2019
May 05-- May 5--With extra state money and expanded mental health services, Volusia students have access to a litany of resources to help when they're struggling with depression, anxiety, problems at home or substance abuse.
But getting students to know about and access those services is another issue.
"People don't know anything about mental health and what we have available through the district that students and staff can access," said Connor Darby, a senior at University High School who's on the district's student advisory committee for mental health.
It's a sentiment echoed by Jordyn Gesowski, a Spruce Creek High sophomore who's also on the committee.
"We have our guidance counselors, which we know are there, but I think we could do a little more with helping us as students when we need help and need to talk to someone," she said.
The students' unfamiliarity with the types of services available to them at their schools comes at a time when more services are being added to the existing network of counselors, psychologists, social workers and resource officers in schools.
Volusia received $1.4 million from the state last year to increase the mental health services it offered -- part of the state's response to the 2018 Parkland shooting. It put the money toward creating five teams of mental health professionals meant to supplement existing services (although the teams weren't up and running until February, a year after the state approved the funding).
And as officials worked to increase mental health offerings, a series of tragedies hit close to home. In March, a 17-year-old Lake Mary high school student brought a gun to school and shot herself in an auditorium on campus. And in April, an 18-year-old DeLand High School student jumped off a bridge into oncoming traffic in Daytona Beach and died.
[READ MORE: 18-year-old DeLand High student jumped from overpass to his death]
Amy Hall, the district's counseling specialist, said increasing communication about "mental wellness" is one of the big things her team is working on this year. Specifically, district staff hope to involve students in the conversation as much as possible.
"We can talk till we're blue in the face, but they're not listening to us," she said. "We realize that the only ones they are listening to is their peers."
[RELATED: Spruce Creek students cope with drugs, mental illness]
That's the next goal for the student advisory committee, made up of high school students who have already shared their thoughts on mental health with district officials. Now those students will be asked to come up with marketing campaigns that their peers will listen to and to encourage their peers to talk to their friends, to let students know there is always someone to talk to.
"That is going to be our new strategy," Hall said, "to get the kids to take this campaign and run with it."
While students are trying to inform other students, the district is hosting mental health symposiums, or opportunities for parents and other community members to come and learn about mental wellness too. Hall compared it to learning CPR.
"People learn CPR with the anticipation that they're probably never going to use it, but you still want those essential skills," she said.
The next is scheduled for Monday at Spruce Creek High, on National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.
Beyond the school district, local stakeholders had a first-of-its-kind meeting Friday to figure out how to better promote youth mental wellness in Volusia and Flagler -- something a number of different agencies have identified as a problem. Representatives from the school district, mental health service providers and law enforcement discussed ways to better access young people, get them talking about their mental health and get them help when they need it. The group will continue to meet in search of solutions.
Youth mental health resources
Children, adolescents and young adults under 25 in Volusia and Flagler who are feeling depressed, alone, suicidal or bullied can call the Stewart Marchman Act 24/7 Crisis Helpline at 800-539-4228.
If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the crisis text line. In emergencies, call 9-1-1, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.
For a complete list of local resources, visit the Halifax Health website.
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