TYLER, Texas (KLTV) -As parents and school leaders recognize the growing need for mental health professionals in schools, a partnership in East Texas schools is making that happen.
It is about starting early. One in five students ages 14 to 19 will experience a serious mental health issue. The problem is they usually wait at least 10 years to even address the issue according to Next Step Community Solutions.
Brandon Davidson, Program Director, Next Step Community Solutions, “In the U.S. in any given year 7 percent of high school, students say that they have attempted suicide. In Texas, that number is 12 percent.
That is why Davidson and his staff at the nonprofit are taking mental health matters into its own hands.
“We think it is the most critical piece of the pie is to be on the school campus. It eliminates almost every barrier to care,” explains Davidson.
Over the years, the nonprofit has collaborated with East Texas schools, to fill part of the gap in services and lower the waiting time for families in several schools.
“When we started in East Texas 5 years ago, we had two schools and one juvenile probation office that we worked at and we saw 37 kids. This year we are on 38 school campuses. 19 probation offices and saw just right at 1,500 kids,” adds Davidson.
According to mental health professionals, the program is a different type of therapy. The focus is to meet kids where they are at and not put them out of school to go to appointments.
“Actually, putting the counselors in residence at the school. Kids are much more likely to take advantage of the services. Parents do not have to worry about missing work.”
Dr. Dan Crawford is the Principal at Robert E. Lee High School. He is taking a more serious look at student’s mental health needs to prevent potential tragedies and improve academic outcomes.
“We want to get ahead of any type of a situation where a kid is struggling, where a kid is feeling alone, is in a situation where they just feel hopeless and don’t know where to turn,” explains Dr. Crawford.
Experts listed anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts as the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions among youth. Professionals pointed out social media use is contributing to the rise in mental health crises.
“The life of a child, the well-being of a child, and the future of a child, you cannot put a price tag on that,” adds Dr. Crawford.
School leaders say increasing mental health awareness in the school system will strengthen all areas of learning while ensuring every child get the attention and treatment they need and deserve.
“Education is much more than just academics and extracurricular activities. It is making sure we are preparing students to be good, global, productive citizens in our society,” explains Dr. Crawford.
Mental health professionals say as mental illness becomes de-stigmatized; more will seek help.
“We feel like we are saving kids’ lives in East Texas. Ultimately, it is our hope and it is our desire to bring hope, help, and strength to kids all over East Texas,” says Davidson.
While school ends today for most public schools, this free program continues through the summer for all Smith County students, and that includes college students.