SESC receives $6M to assist in mental health issues in schools

·3 min read

May 17—The aftermath of the pandemic has left many students struggling with mental health issues, and state educators are making efforts to resolve that problem.

The announcement of a 5-year, $6 million grant to the Southeast South-Central Educational Cooperative last week is a major step toward achieving that goal. The grant was announced on Thursday and was provided through the U.S. Department of Education.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman was on hand in London on Thursday to celebrate the Mental Health Access Grant that will increase long-term access to high quality culturally relevant school-based mental health services for over 16,200 students that attend schools in the southeast and southcentral region.

Finding experienced mental health professionals to work in the schools is another aspect of the program that will enhance the project.

Coleman is a former teacher and coach, a mother, author and speaker for public education.

"I am so proud that the Beshear-Coleman Administration has been and always will be an education-first administration," she said.

Mental health was definitely a major part of the shut-down that businesses and individuals dealt with during the pandemic. Coleman outlined some facts — that were collected before the pandemic.

"18,000 families lost a loved one during the pandemic, people felt isolated, COVID made it impossible for us to ignore any more," she said. "Even before the pandemic, 1 in 5 kids were struggling with mental health challenges. Only 20% received care. And 15% of Kentucky high school students admitted to considering suicide — that was pre-pandemic. What we knew was students needed help and didn't know how to get it."

With this money, the SESC has already formulated a plan that supports their mission: Empowering and Elevating Educational Excellence.

The SESC's Equitable Mental Health Access Program lists the following goals:

—Prepare students in university mental health training programs for delivering culturally responsive services in school settings.

—Prepare staff of mental health agencies for delivering culturally responsive services in school settings.

—Match graduate students and licensed professionals with characteristics of the student populations being served.

—Train and coach schools in a model of school-based mental health integration called Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF).

The programs will be developed through phases of development. Spring will bring review of the program and implementing programs at schools. Summer will start training programs for schools, university staff and community based mental health programs. That will include site preparation and working with mental health professionals.

Fall will bring placement and orientation of mental health professionals and graduate students for monthly meetings and implementing evidence-based mental health practices. The winter will continue coaching and training as well as continued data collections and implementation.

Russell Jones, the Region 9 Program Director for the Family Resource/Youth Service Centers, said that 28% of youth are at risk for severe mental health challenges.

"They deal with anxiety, depression, stress, grief — and that number goes up to 40% for females," Jones said. "It's important that we're here because those kids need a voice. Those kids are somebody out there that need something."

The family mental health component for FRYSC is now mandated and the grant money is a welcomed addition to further implement existing programs.

Jones mentioned the suicide rate among youth, adding that even one suicide was "one too many."

"The simple reason that we're here is because we're here to help kids," he said. "We're here to help kids. We're here to help families."