District Administration September 2017 - 14

OnTopic

Michael Beresford and Brooke Lawson

at his high school. I'm a licensed clinical social worker, but I
had never really heard about a school mental health club. We
helped him identify the vision of this club-we wanted to be
very careful that it wasn't going to be a support group for kids.
We knew there would probably be some kids who would come
to the club who were themselves struggling with mental illness,
but that wasn't really the goal of the club.
This student wanted to raise awareness of mental illness and
educate his peers on what mental illness is. He wanted to be a
voice for other kids and a resource for his friends if they were
struggling. I didn't know whether kids would want to come to
a mental health club, but we had 30 students show up to our
first meeting. Since then we've had between 50 and 70 students
attend each meeting.
Beresford: What's remarkable is that from the onset, we've
identified stigma as the No. 1 barrier to helping people who are
suffering in silence. Just the idea that these kids are that open
and will go that distance to normalize mental health just as you
would a physical ailment, is just amazing.
So it is really more about awareness and acceptance rather
than intervention?
Lawson: Right. We've done a lot of talking with the kids about
how it's not their job to save someone, and we trained them in
QPR-a prevention strategy-so that they would know how
to respond if they had a friend who was struggling.
Tell us about QPR, the suicide prevention strategy.
Lawson: It's called Question, Persuade and Refer. It teaches how
to respond to someone who might be in crisis, who might be
thinking about hurting themselves or others. It's a specific way
to help them get the help they need. All our teachers have been
trained in QPR, as are new teachers to the district each year.
Where does the first indication come from that a student
has a problem?
Lawson: It comes from a lot of people. In the younger ages our
teachers end up noticing it or their parents might notice that
something is off. Older kids sometimes talk to their friends, and
we've had many kids tell us they're worried about a friend.
Beresford: Several years ago we launched a Text-a-Tip program.
We thought it would be for crime or for kids who were bullied-that sort of thing. But we probably have more kids who
text concerns about another student's welfare. So students are
using that to reach out if they think there's something going on
with a kid. The text goes to the police department and to the administrators in the school district. We get on that very quickly.
Having a district mental health coordinator is not very
common. Why is that, when it's so vital to young people?
Beresford: That's a great question. I can tell you what my
motivation was for making this essential to our mental health
14 September 2017

We've identified stigma as the
No. 1 barrier to helping people
who are suffering in silence.
plan. Guidance counselors are taught to give academic and
social-emotional support. They're not trained therapists and
they're not trained to do therapy. I found it was vital to have
someone who had those credentials, who knows about therapy
and has the training to be able to lead our staff and guidance
counselors on the mental health side of life so we could better
support our kids.
What can a district do, especially one that is financially
challenged, to replicate your approach?
Beresford: We began this with really no funding. We were in
bad financial shape when we started. Step one is to get with
your mental health providers. We started out with services in
the school that were basically just Medicaid-reimbursable so
that they could work with kids who are in Medicaid. The other
key was giving them access to the building, because parents
who work have trouble making and keeping off-site appointments regularly. Being in school, where the action was, we
were able to get that started along those lines.
Lawson: I think that's such a crucial role for a mental health
therapist, because there are students who spend the majority of
their day at school. It makes sense to have a mental health provider at the school because they can support the student, but
they can also help the teacher and other school staff put things
in place to help that student be successful.
Have you been able to measure the effectiveness of your
unique program?
Beresford: Yeah, we're definitely getting more success stories.
The numbers of students who have expressed suicidal thoughts
went up. Now, you may take that as a negative, but my hunch
is that the stigma is reduced and kids are more comfortable
in telling other kids and adults that they have these conflicted
and sad feelings. They want to let you know. They're getting
the help they need. They're learning the healthy coping mechanisms that they didn't have.
Lawson: I think another success is the club. It has really
brought some purpose into the lives of these kids and helped
them realize that they're not the only ones who struggle.
Beresford: The hope is that this can be a more common thing.
We're finding better ways to cope with the stress and anxiety in
a teenager or student. DA
Tim Goral is senior editor.
District Administration



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration September 2017

District Administration September 2017 - Cover1
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