What grant money for mental health services means for local schools

WTAP News @ 11
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 8:08 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Thanks to grant money from DHHR, mental health services at Blennerhassett Middle and Jackson Middle will be expanding.

It’s a program that’s already been implemented in multiple local schools through partnerships with Westbrook Health Services. The pandemic, however, put a strain on student’s mental health, leading to a push for the program’s expansion into more schools.

Westbrook’s Director of Youth Services Nancy Creighton said, “We have noticed as students have been returning to the traditional learning environment, our referral rates are up…,”

On top of heightened anxiety, students have also struggled with socialization.

Wood County Schools’ Coordinator of Assessment and Student Services Cathy Grewe explained, “Because of the isolation and because students were in front of a computer screen, many of them have struggled with how to get along with each other, how to be nice to each other, just how to communicate.”

It’s something this program aims to address. Westbrook workers will go into schools, providing classroom lessons about topics like suicide prevention and the negative impact of drugs.

Grewe said, “They can go into classrooms and talk about issues like getting along, conflict resolution…,”

The program will also provide group services and one on one sessions to more vulnerable students.

Creighton said, “My hope is that these students can get access to these services early enough that they’re not going to need traditional therapy services.”

Wood County school officials clarify that one on one services will be set-up through parents.

The hope is that the program will give easy access to mental health services that some families might not have the time, money, or transportation to access outside of school hours.

Creighton said she’s seen the impact the program can make.

It’s been implemented at Saint Marys High School for at least a decade.

She said, “We have seen in our long term schools an increase in referrals for services which may initially sound like a bad thing because it seems as though there must be kids getting worse but actually what it means is the stigma has been reduced to the point where students who may have not been comfortable coming forward and saying ‘I need help with anxiety’, or ‘I feel depressed’, or ‘I’m having suicidal thoughts’ - at this point they feel comfortable coming forward and saying to their teachers and their counselors ‘hey I need help.’”

Outside of Wood County, the program will also expand to Saint Marys Elementary as well as Belmont Elementary.

Hamilton Middle and Parkersburg High are about a year into the program.

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