Groups funds mental health professional for schools
Jacksonville Journal-Courier - 3/17/2020
Mar. 16--PITTSFIELD -- The Health and Wellness Foundation of Pike County will fund a mental health position meant to service the student body of Pike County schools.
Patricia McIntosh, executive director of the Health and Wellness Foundation of Pike County said they are looking to hire a licensed clinical social worker to be a shared resource for Pike County school districts. The foundation will fund the position at $50,000 annually. The position will serve students from grades K-12.
The Southern Illinois University Center for Family Medicine in Springfield will be the hiring entity, but McIntosh said that the employee will be based in Pike County. Mental Health Centers of Western Illinois is also a partner in the project. She said that they hope to have the position filled by the next school year. A memorandum of agreement has been executed by the four school districts and talks are ongoing with the SIU Center for Family Medicine.
McIntosh said that the foundation funded a six-month mental health resource assessment in the county in order to identify the needs and concerns for mental health in Pike County last year. The results of the assessment included a finding that there was not sufficient mental health resources in the schools. Students were also believed to be a group that could benefit from the resource because they have more time to develop lifelong health habits.
The study found that the most vulnerable groups -- people in isolated areas, the impoverished, children and the elderly -- lack access to mental health services.
McIntosh said that the school officials reported that they were seeing growing levels of trauma in students and the schools would be welcoming of the assistance.
McIntosh said that how the resource will be implemented will be up to the school districts, "They know their needs, they know their schedules, they know their resources," McIntosh said.
It is expected that the employee will spend one day of the week in each of the school districts and the fifth day may go to the district with the greatest perceived need.
Students who have the greatest level of trauma on any given day will get the most one-on-one attention from the employee, McIntosh said. During the summer months, the employee may spend time doing one-on-one work with families and students throughout the county and develop group meetings to address coping skills.
The long-term goal of the project is to do mental health first-aid training and for the employee to conduct student assessments.
Substance abuse is an issue that affects students, as it does to all age groups. The foundation's study found that opioid and alcohol abuse are growing issues in the county and rural youth have easy access to these substances. According to the study, 18.7% of Pike County residents are at risk for binge or acute drinking.
McIntosh said Pike County students dealt with issues consistent with children in rural areas.
"In rural America, there are a lot of commonalities in terms of mental health issues," McIntosh said, "Children being raised in single-parent households, children being raised by grandparents or being raised with non-parental adults in the household and being in remote areas where there is a degree of isolation."
People in rural areas also have a greater stigma attached to mental health issues and are less likely to seek out assistance, McIntosh said.
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