Mental health crisis Jacksonville youth need community support

Duval County Public Schools has been providing students with mental health resources for years because the district understands there is a link between mental and emotional well-being and academic success, according to Katrina Taylor, director of health school behavior at Duval County Public Schools.

While there’s a desire to help students, primarily through school counsellors, she also knows there’s a stigma around mental health — and that it’s not easy for students. to ask for help.

Thanks to Emily Merton, a student and alumnus of Riverside High School, the district just unveiled a new program that involves a new website (https://dcps.duvalschools.org/grow) aimed specifically at youth mental well-being, as well as student-run organizations in high schools that offer regular activities and initiatives.

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As a communications intern last summer, Merton played a huge role in the development of GROW – which stands for Gain Resilience, Get Wellness. She knew the district was trying to find other ways to get students to access services. This is the very reason why the name of the program is positive.

“I knew they had great intentions, but they knew they were missing a key ingredient…student voices. How did the students feel? What were the students saying? What were their needs? As a recent high school graduate, I knew I could benefit from my experience and the experience of my peers. I also knew I could conduct research,” she said in a statement.

Taylor said Merton’s research has been instrumental in finding new ways to overcome the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues and provide more spaces, organizations and adults who support good. -mental and emotional being.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a good time to shine a light on the efforts of people like Taylor and Merton who are trying to reach young people before they go into crisis mode. Anxiety and depression are the two most diagnosed mental health conditions among middle and high school students, and adjustment disorder is the most diagnosed challenge among elementary school students, Taylor said.

Wolfson Children's Hospital uses banners throughout the city to encourage adults to play a role in helping children with their mental health.  They offer resources ranging from advice and conversation starters to free mental health first aid for 8-hour youth.  So far, about 900 people have been trained by Baptist Health since 2015.

Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital are reporting a continued influx of mental health crises among our young people. While 2019 saw the highest number of behavioral health emergency room visits for all ages, 2021 saw the highest number of young people up to age 17.

Melanie Patz, who oversees social accountability and community outreach efforts at Baptist Health, said mental illness is treated completely unlike cancer because people naturally want to help someone diagnosed with the disease.

“That doesn’t happen with mental illness. There’s a lot of stigma and people tend to feel like it’s their fault,” she said. “Mental illness is real, and there are things that can be done to help people feel better, take care of themselves, and stay in recovery.”

“A lot of what we see in children is anxiety or depression,” she said, noting that issues include cyberbullying and high-stakes testing. “The pandemic has only exacerbated it.”

Hospitals provide resources to the community to help adults help young people, with the goal of preventing crises and promoting early intervention. One way is to sign up for their “On Our Sleeves” newsletter which offers resources and tips for engaging kids with important conversation topics. The hospital also offers a free 8-hour mental health first aid training for young people. The course identifies common mental health issues and teaches people how to handle crisis and non-crisis situations for young people.

The hospital is also one of 200 children’s hospitals nationwide that have joined a national call for legislative action. “Sound the Alarm for Kids” is a campaign to urge Congress to increase funding to address a national child and adolescent mental health emergency.

Whether in a hospital or in a school district, mental health experts continually speak of a stigma that keeps young people from seeking help. The community can help by sharing resources.

The GROW initiative started by Duval Public Schools helps connect students with school counselors, social workers and mental health therapists. They are ready to meet needs ranging from mental health counseling and school support to help with housing, clothing and food.

Marcia Pledger is the opinion and engagement editor for the Florida Times-Union. She can be reached at [email protected]

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