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Posted: August 18, 2017

Jule Hubbard/Journal Patriot

Daymark Recovery Services started providing mental health counseling for elementary students and therapeutic day treatment services for elementary and middle school students in Wilkes County last year and will expand these services in 2017-18.

Results of the in-school efforts were shared during the Aug. 7 Wilkes County Board of Education meeting as part of an annual report of the Wilkes School Health Advisory Committee. The report credited April Marr, the school system’s student services director, with leading efforts for partnering with Daymark.

Through the partnership, the report said, 96 students in all Wilkes elementary schools participated in counseling sessions during school days in 2016-17. In addition, Mulberry Elementary and West Wilkes Middle schools hosted “therapeutic treatment and classroom instruction side-by-side during the school day” for students with more serious mental health needs.

Three fulltime Daymark licensed mental health therapists provided the counseling and therapeutic day treatment. “Demand for these services continues to grow in our elementary schools and Daymark has hired another fulltime therapist to expand these services for the 2017-18 school year,” the report said.

The initiative reduces missed instructional time, boosts school resources for students with mental health needs and addresses problems families face with counseling costs and getting children to and from appointments, the report said. Daymark bills insurance for students who have coverage and offers a sliding scale fee for families without insurance, said Marr.

Many of the 13 elementary and 16 middle school students in the therapeutic day treatment programs previously couldn’t attend a full day of school due to their emotional and behavioral needs, “but we saw major gains in full days of attendance and academic progress for all students in the program this year.”

Thirty-six elementary and middle school students combined participated in the therapeutic day treatment programs over the summer.

C.C. Wright Elementary and North Wilkes High schools will be added as therapeutic day treatment sites in 2017-18 due to the success of these programs, the report said.

Mulberry Elementary will be a site for therapeutic day treatment services to children in kindergarten through second grade in the Wilkes schools; C.C. Wright, for students in grades three to five; West Middle, for students in grades six to eight; and North Wilkes High, for students in grades nine to 12.

The Wilkes Health Department’s Mobile Expanded School Health (MESH) unit provided behavioral health services to 138 Wilkes high school students in over 500 individual sessions in 2016-17, compared to 189 in 650 sessions the prior year. These services are provided through a partnership with Don Lin Counseling.

MESH added behavioral health services for the four middle schools in February 2016 through Jodi Province Counseling Services. This resulted in behavioral health services for 104 middle school students in 2016-17.

Marr said that with the combined services of MESH and Daymark, all students in kindergarten through 12th grade can receive assistance with mental health concerns.

She said students in the Wilkes schools, like their peers nationwide, have had more emotional outbursts, depression, anxiety, anger and thoughts of self-harm over the past few years.

She said schools are trying to find ways to support these students and help them focus on learning while teaching them healthy social and emotional skills, but she added that everyone benefits from learning positive coping skills and stress management.

Marr said increases in frequency and severity of behaviors and mental health concerns have led to collaborative partnerships between school systems and mental health providers to offer support beyond what can be offered in every school.

She said the Wilkes school system employs people in a variety of related student support roles, including:

  • school counselors, who provide social and emotional skill instruction and brief mental health assistance to students, as well as academic advisement and college and career guidance to students;
  • school social workers, who assist families experiencing various types of distress and help connect students and families with other community resources;
  • school nurses, who assist with physical health and access to medical care;
  • school psychologists, who can provide mental health assistance to students, but spend more of their time assessing students for special educational services and assisting classroom teachers with implementing interventions to improve classroom behavior.

“We’ve been working in the schools and in the surrounding community to address childhood trauma and the impact of ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ on our children and youth for the past couple of years,” said Marr. School officials now know that increased student behavioral and emotional concerns often result from the economic and social issues their families face, she added.

She said that to cope with domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, divorce, substance abuse, mental health crises, homelessness and other problems that often result from increased family stressors, children develop internal and external coping strategies and behaviors that may inhibit their success in school.

Marr said research shows that one in five people (about 21 percent), experience severe mental distress at some point between ages 13 and 18. She said it’s about 13 percent between ages 8 and 15. She noted that adult mental illnesses begin to emerge in late adolescence and throughout the late teen years.

Providing counseling and therapeutic services to students in the school setting helps them access ongoing mental health support to develop positive coping skills and improved emotional self-regulation.

“I also think that the more we remove the stigma from seeking support for our mental and emotional health in our county, the more likely we are to change some of the social challenges that we continue to battle,” said Marr.

She emphasized that stress sometimes makes it hard for all people, regardless of age or background, to think and act in logical and rational ways. “Learning how to cope with life’s challenges and manage stress in a healthy way is an essential life skill for all people,” said Marr.

Article Reference: Daymark helps meet student needs