State grant funds salaries of staff in two districts

By Erin Albanese - October 22, 2019 (Courtesy of School News Network)

mental health stock 2 696x522
Principals and nurses are reporting that students are talking about more anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and stressful situations at home

Outpatient therapist Ashtyn Storms is stationed at Wyoming Junior High School, offering onsite mental health support to the diverse, 1,000-student body.

On staff at Cherry Health Health Services for four-and-a-half years, Storms has experience working with adolescents facing myriad issues that can weigh heavily on their minds. She is offering professional counseling services students otherwise may have to leave school for.

“I think sometimes it’s just availability,” said Storms, about how her presence helps students in need of immediate services. She started working at the seventh through ninth grade building in mid-September.

“It’s being there 40 hours a week during their school day,” she said. “A lot can happen in the course of the school day. You might start off the day wonderful, and then something happens by lunchtime and your day isn’t so wonderful anymore. I think just knowing there is someone in the building you can go to if you need something is huge.”

Storms’ position is possible through a two-year state grant from the Michigan Department of Mental Health and Human Services, allocated through a partnership with Cherry Health Services for licensed, master’s level behavioral health providers. Wyoming Public Schools received $100,000 of the grant to hire the clinician. Statewide, 60 schools are sharing the $5 million grant.

“We felt that a lot of students in those teenage years were seeing increases in anxiety, depression and mental health needs. We felt it was an excellent place to provide intervention for kids,” said Jason Maas, Wyoming Public Schools director of student services.

Grand Rapids Public Schools was allocated $300,000 from the grant to pay for three mental health staff members. The funds are being split evenly between Alger Middle School, Riverside Middle and City High School, said Kim Baron, a registered nurse, and director of school health services. In October, two of the clinicians had been hired.

Needs are significant, Baron said. “In middle school and high school, our principals and nurses are reporting more anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and stressful situations that kids are talking about at home.”

According to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five children ages 13 to 18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Also, suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24

Baron said the clinicians offer a direct way to help students.

“What we know about middle schoolers is they are trying to figure out who they are, and they are struggling with identity issues,” she said. “If we can give those students some tools to better handle their different struggles with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, social situations, whatever they are struggling with at home at a younger age, maybe we can prevent their mental health issues from getting worse before they get into high school.”

Read the full story on School News Network.