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Growing need for mental health support in schools during pandemic

Experts report there was a growing need for mental health support for students prior to Covid-19, but the need this past year has been huge.

ATLANTA — While some kids may be excited to finally return to the classroom, experts caution that may not be the case for all.

Dr. Jeannine Jannot founded the Balanced Student in 2014 and  routinely works with students who are struggling or need extra support. Yet, she noticed a shift in the feedback she was hearing from students as the pandemic unfolded last year. 

"By the second semester...motivation was down," Jannot said. "Their grades were starting to fall. What students were telling me was they didn't care anymore."

"This was really unsettling to students," she explained. "Because what I heard in the past was 'I may don't look like I don't care but I really do care. I just don't know what I need to do to right the ship."

Dr. Jannot said she's seen an increase in students seeking help and support, and in some cases, she said there has been a wait list for those seeking services. While she said there was a growing need for mental health support for students prior to Covid-19, she said the need this past year has been huge.

The 2021 Kids Count report offers a little more perspective into how Georgia kids are doing. 

According to July data, nearly a third of families (32%) surveyed report kids feeling nervous, anxious or on edge. While 24% report feeling down, depressed or hopeless.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jannot is concerned some kids didn't get a real break amid efforts to deal with learning loss.

RELATED: State granted $1.4B to address learning loss from COVID pandemic

"This summer was a perfect opportunity for students to take a break and recover," she said. "And so any kids that were pushed into, or pushed themselves into doing work this summer, I'm afraid they'll walk through the door still burned out." 

11Alive checked in with metro Atlanta school districts to get an idea of how schools will support students this year (responses can be found in full below).

For example, Atlanta Public Schools said part of their efforts will include the hiring of ten additional psychologists and 25 more social workers. Gwinnett County School District reported it also plans to double social worker staff to accommodate the anticipated need. 

RELATED: 'We can’t do this all at once in one year': Metro Atlanta school districts work to address learning loss

Part of Fulton County Schools' ongoing strategy will include continued adoption of the 'Text4Help' tool. While in Paulding county, the district will have 'crisis text line cards' available for all middle and high school students. 

"I think the intentions are great from what  I've seen," Dr. Jannot said. "And I know there's a lot of programs and policies in place. My deepest hope is when those students walk through the door that their mental health is priority."

RESOURCES

  • www.FreeYourFeels.org: This website was launched by Georgia's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and Voices for Georgia's Children and contains resources for students, families and educators including ways to manage back to school stress. 
  • NotOkApp: A free digital panic button to get you immediate support via text, phone call, or GPS location when you’re struggling to reach out. 
  • Georgia Crisis and Access Line: For immediate access to routine or crisis services, please call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL) at 1-800-715-4225. GCAL is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year to help you or someone you care for in a crisis. Georgia’s youth can also access GCAL’s services via text and chat through the app My GCAL.

ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS 

“When APS students return to school this fall, they will have the necessary supports to strengthen their social and emotional well-being. These supports will also help determine what our students need as they return from more than a year of pandemic disruption. To assist with this effort, APS is investing more than $9.1 million in physical and mental health and wellness, including:

  • COVID-19 surveillance testing
  • 8 additional Student Support Specialists
  • Contracted nursing services
  • Universal screener for Behavioral and Mental Health
  • Employee training for Trauma-Informed Care/Practices
  • 10 additional psychologists and 25 additional school social workers

"Early on, we realized that we will have to recognize and work through the psychological trauma that all of us have experienced during the pandemic. We know all of our students and their families have been impacted and so we wanted to be as proactive as any school district in the nation,” the district's statement reads in part.

BARTOW COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

“During pre-planning, our school counselors will go through a Trauma 101 training as a refresher on strategies to combat many types of traumas our returning students may have faced during their time away from school,” Dr. Brent Shropshire, Director of Counselors, College Readiness, Wellness and Fine Art,” said.

“As of right now, we are not using CARES ACT money for mental health support. However, we have formed a subcommittee to look at mental health issues our students may be facing. We will do research and look at best practices to help our students. Once the subcommittee makes recommendations, we may have access to CARES ACT money to implement programing.”

CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

“CCSD is continuing its nationally recognized Social and Emotional Learning initiative, which includes several programs focused on student mental health needs. These efforts include two student support specialists focused on mental health needs, check-in/connect and at-risk roster reviews at the school level to provide additional support to students in need, alliances with community partners to provide additional support and referral options, and training for school-based staff on mental health needs including identifying suicidal ideation.”

“CCSD has used CARES Act funds to hire additional school nurses, psychologists and social workers, whose roles include supporting mental health needs.”

DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

“DCSD will provide both internal and external support to students and families, through the counseling, social work and school psychology department. The district employs both full and part time counselors to support student needs. In addition, we will utilize the support of our pre-existing external partners, including DeKalb Community Service Board, in addition to other service providers."

"A portion of the CARES Act funding has been earmarked to increase mental health support to schools by utilizing licensed practitioners to provide services to adults and students.”

 

GWINNETT COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

“We have offered training to our staff on Social-emotional learning strategies to help support students appropriately express emotions and needs and work through the challenging experiences of last year. We have increased our professional development for our counselors and social workers in the area of trauma and grief and the various ways these experiences manifest within the different age groups. In addition, we have provided professional development for our counselors to work through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion when supporting all of our students many of who come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences. We have more than doubled our social worker staff as we begin to hire 24 new social workers in preparation for the increased need we know is prevalent in our communities. In addition, we are contracting with local mental health agencies for acute, sustained mental health support for students needing those services as well as with wrap-around agencies for families needing additional support.We are using CARES III to support the work mentioned.”

FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS

“Thankfully, we had several good systems in place prior to COVID that we have continued to build over time. We have an on-site mental health partner in every FCS school. The purpose of these partnerships is to remove barriers related to access and stigma. These partners provide individual therapy, group therapy, parent nights, family therapy, etc. We also have an incredible tool called Text4Help. Our middle and high school students can text a phone number and connected to a mental health professional 24/7 365. We have been able leverage federal funds and critical support from Fulton's Board of Commissioners to develop a robust and comprehensive support system for all students. “

“The district plans to utilize America Rescue Plan funding to expand our Safe Centers to two additional areas. The SAFE Center provides resources for students and the community. Mental health support will be provided in the SAFE Center as well as other wrap around supports.”

PAULDING COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

“Our school counselors are receiving additional mental health resources including books on Anxiety, Grief and Depression at their Pre-Planning days this week. We also have trainers coming in from Willowbrooke at Tanner to do training with them on De-escalation Techniques in the Classroom and Self-Harm/Self-Injury Among Students this week.”

“Our director of Prevention / Intervention met with several local mental health agencies in June to create a coalition of treatment providers. During the coalition meeting, the needs of PCSD students were discussed and the agencies agreed to partner with PCSD to provide mental health services to students and families. Currently, we have two agencies providing school-based mental health services while others provide clinic or home-based services.”

Our school staff in middle and high schools have received Crisis Text Line cards to distribute to students. Each school has received enough cards to distribute to every student and to keep the cards available for parents as well. There will be Crisis Text Line cards placed in offices and parent locations within elementary schools.”

HALL COUNTY SCHOOLS

“Our entire HCSD team takes a responsibility in contributing to the mental health of all of our community. All staff members received mental health training last year and will be completing a skills training on August 2nd as the next step. Additionally, each school has a Wellness Team that focuses on staff and student wellness. Hall County Schools was awarded the Project Aware Grant for Mental Health. We also have Tier 3 mental health advocates who help staff, students and family bring services to the school or help reduce barriers to receive help. We provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to our High School youth so they can help with seeing signs and knowing how to help and involve adults.”

“We have hired Tier 2 Student Interventionists who will be trained in Dialectical Skills to help students who struggle with anxiety and dysregulation.”