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Kent State, Medina County collaborate to expand student mental health services

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Students will benefit from mental health services after Kent State University’s College of Public Health received a $375,000 federal grant to be implemented in Medina County’s public schools.

The main goals of the project are to provide mental health awareness trainings to the teachers, administrators and staff at each school, create resource guides and referral mechanisms, and implement campaigns to reduce the mental health stigma.

Phillip Titterington, executive director of the Medina County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board, said the board is excited to be a partner in this “unique opportunity.”

“(It will) create a countywide approach to identifying and addressing student mental health needs,” he said in a statement. “Collaborations of this magnitude don’t always occur but when they do, great things happen.”

Through a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Public Policy and Health in the college will partner with the ADAMH board and the seven public school districts in Medina County to improve student mental wellness.

“A priority of the Medina County ADAMH Board is to ensure that youth mental health needs are being addressed,” Titterington said. “Early identification and intervention of mental health concerns are key to decreasing isolation and symptoms such as depression, as well as risk factors such as drug use and involvement in the criminal justice system.

“Bringing Mental Health First Aid to the Medina County schools will give school personnel the tools to not only identify mental health issues in students, but link them with appropriate resources in the community.”

The project, Medina County Aware, or MCA, will be led by Deric Kenne, associate professor, and Kim Laurene, research associate at Kent State University.

“The number of students struggling with mental health issues has been increasing, yet as many as 80 percent of students who need help do not get it,” Kenne said. “In many cases, students who are struggling with their mental health go unnoticed. If untreated, mental health can worsen and can have life-long negative impact.

“This is an opportunity to raise awareness in our schools, reduce the negative stigma associated with mental health disorder and educate school personnel on how to identify, engage and assist students who may be struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.”

Kenne said the program could have long-range effects for Medina County students.

“We hope that by the end of the three-year initiative, we will have created an open and supportive environment for students in our schools – one that reduces stigma and barriers associated with getting help when needed,” he said.

Schools partnering in the program include Black River, Brunswick, Buckeye, Cloverleaf, Highland, Medina, Medina County Career Center and Wadsworth.

Approximately 35 percent of the teachers, administrators and staff at each school will complete youth mental health first aid training, an eight-hour, nationally recognized evidence-based program for individuals who work with youth 12-18 years of age.

In addition, each school system will designate at least two school personnel to be certified as youth mental health aid instructors, which will allow those school systems to continue the training after funding ends.

School personnel will learn risk factors and warning signs of common mental illnesses, a five-step action plan to engage with and help students, and safe and effective ways to de-escalate crisis situations. Research (www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org). shows that the youth mental health aid training:

  • improves participants’ knowledge of signs and symptoms of risk factors for mental illness and addiction;
  • helps participants identify professional and self-help resources;
  • increases participants’ confidence and likelihood to help someone distressed;
  • improves participants’ mental wellness;
  • reduces social distance.

Project staff, relevant school personnel and the ADAMH Board will meet to review existing data, if available, or develop new behavioral health referral source lists and referral mechanisms that are specific to each school system. Project staff will create a referral guide for each school.

A mental health stigma-reduction and awareness campaign, Hear to Help, will be implemented in each school. Teachers, administrators and other school staff who complete the training receive the Hear to Help logo to display in their classroom or office. The logo allows students to identify safe/supportive school personnel that they can go to for support and assistance.

Services for mental health are needed in the county.

In Wadsworth, school board members created a mental health committee to further examine the mental health needs of their students. From possible drug use to issues of mental health, district officials have said the needs of students outside the classroom continue to grow.

Wadsworth High School Principal Steve Moore previously said that with the other responsibilities that fall on the school’s guidance team, it can be challenging to provide direct and indirect services to students.

“The issues we are dealing with at the high school level and I assume the middle school as well, when an issue happens with a student and there is an immediacy of working with that student, there needs to be a follow-up,” Moore said.

“That follow-up is where we are struggling.”

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.


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