In 2015, the City of Fishers launched a mental health initiative. The initiative, called Stigma Free Fishers, brought together the city government, local church leaders, and local school leaders. They all came together on a topic that was impacting our entire community. They set aside partisanship, religious views, and other divisive beliefs to focus on something for the betterment of our community – removing the stigma of mental health issues and bringing help to those that need it.
People’s view of what constitutes ‘mental health’ vary. One issue with mental health is that many problems are not easily seen. Many times, communities are surprised when a mental issue finally shows itself in an extreme manner. You read the comments in the paper after a tragedy happens. Statements like “they seemed so happy,” “I didn’t know they were having problems”, “they never got into trouble”, or “they seemed to have a great marriage.”
The initiative that was set up focused in many areas. It worked to create ongoing support within HSE schools. It started research to identify community programs that were needed. It created programs to promote mental health wellness and awareness. It created prevention and skill-based education services. Pastors, teachers, politicians came together as a group and rolled out this initiative.
The initiatives were later picked up by the Fishers Health Department. A part of their focus is to prevent serious mental health outcomes in our community. This is being done currently by offering caregiver support groups, by providing youth mental health first aid training, by offering QPR: Suicide Prevention call and text support, by doing a Naloxone (Narcan) program for overdoses, and more.
Mental health care includes a wide range of services and focus points. You can learn a lot more about what the city is doing at https://www.fishers.in.us/1428/Mental-Health. You can learn more about what Hamilton Southeastern Schools are doing at https://www.hseschools.org/departments/mental-health. The school district page also includes links with information for helping kids deal with grief, crisis hotline numbers, and other resources. It also includes links to a self-care action plan.
Based on information posted on the City of Fishers website, suicide was the twelfth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020. There were 1.2 million attempts at suicide. For individuals in the 10 to 14 year range, it was the second leading cause of death. Suicide is just one indicator — at the extreme level — of why an investment in mental health is important. Many people the past few years have called out teen suicides. Some of the biggest things focused on reducing the number of suicides are mental health programs and the initiatives around mental health awareness.
Mental health is often something that is not noticed. A core part of the initiatives started a few years ago was to remove the stigmas associated to mental health issues. Many people have raised the issue of teen suicides during the pandemic. They have pointed to an increase in the level of mental stress in kids due to the pandemic and the decisions that were made in communities and schools. That was on top of the existing issues. As such, it seems that the more that can be done around mental health awareness and services, the better. The people who were just saying more should be done, should not be pushing back when there are opportunities to do more.
Mental health services in our schools can help students better handle the emotional turmoil that comes with being a kid. It can help educate these children on their own mental wellbeing so they know when to ask for help, or know where to get help. This is an area where it is hard to question spending. Helping a child to cope could prevent them from dropping out, from contemplating suicide or from possibly even worse including violence.
When the government gives a district $5.7 million to use on mental health as a grant, it should be nearly impossible to say no. HSE didn’t say no to such a grant, although they have recently paused doing anything with it. There have been naysayers in the community saying that the district should have passed and should return any money that might have been received. The grant would cover hiring up to 27 psychologists and social workers within the school. This would help offset the backlog that the current counselor and services have seen where kids are not getting the services needed or are being delayed.
The issue that has been raised is that the district would need to absorb the cost of 15 of those roles over the 5 year grant periods – so roughly three a year. As such, there is a requirement for the district to kick in some funding along with the $5.7 million coming within the grant. This added cost is part of what at least one school board member is questioning whether it would be fiscally responsible to spend funds in this area at this time.
While one can argue – and there are those arguing this – that mental health services are not academic. They state it should therefore be a parental cost to provide such services to their kid through their own medical plans or at their own expense. A child’s mental health, however, does indeed impact learning academics. If a child is mentally distracted or dealing with a mental health issue, then they are not going to be at their peak for learning reading, writing, science, history, or even math. As such, the focus on mental health services includes a focus on helping kids to do their best at learning and achieving academic excellence. As to mental health services not being academic, neither are sports.
Issues such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), ADHD, and OCD are real. In simple terms, ADD is a result of how the brain is wired. Chemicals in the brain aren’t at the right levels, so when neurons fire to send a message, the message doesn’t make to where it needs to go. As such, the message doesn’t happen. This can be seen as a kid not paying attention, losing focus to become easily distracted, and being impulsive. It’s a mental health issue. It is just one of many types of challenges these mental health professionals can help identify. By identifying them, they can work with parents to come up with an action plan to address them. These issues are often overlooked in homes but rise to the surface more noticeably within classrooms. The sooner issues are identified, the better for the student academically.
The result of having the extra staff members is that they will be able to work with teachers to identify when there are kids having trouble. By helping to identify the root cause of the trouble, the end result should be to help the kids be able to better focus on learning by creating individual education plans (IEP).
The HSE School Board is reviewing the $5.7 million grant on February 8th at a 5:00pm work session that people can attend in person. It will also be livestreamed and recorded. The item is also on the agenda for the regular board meeting at 7:00pm on February 8th. There have been indications that at least two of the board members don’t approve of taking the grant. Should the grant be dropped, it would be a missed opportunity to fill the gap of what is needed versus what is currently being provided within the district in regard to services.
While there will be some cost to the district as a result of this grant, there is also the possibility of learning a great deal. Over the course of the five year grant, the district should be able to determine if there was an improvement in learning as a result of better identifying and addressing mental health issues. If there isn’t, then when the grant ends, the district can also end the added costs by dropping any additional positions they had filled. The district simply needs to be loud and clear in communicating the impact of the grant along with what happens if an improvement isn’t seen; they need to be open, clear, and transparent. If there is a positive impact on learning, then it seems that any cost to the district would be justified. It would show that if you are truly striving for academic excellence that is best for the students, then making sure you are pushing for the best in mental health is a real factor.
It is also expected that addressing mental health issues will have an impact on behavior. As such, there should also be a reduction in needed discipline over the course of the program. After all, if kids are less distracted, better able to focus, and more attuned to what is happening, they should also be less likely to cause problems that require disciplinary action.
Many agree that including a focus on the mental well-being of the kids in the high-stress environment of school seems critically important. The topic was important enough that several years ago the city, the churches, and the schools set aside their differences and came together. That was before the world had a pandemic, which elevated the need for such services making them even more critically important. The HSE School Board is considering walking away from a $5.7 million grant. This is money that doesn’t have to be paid back. This is money that will likely be used elsewhere in the state if HSE turns it down. If you agree that mental health is important, I highly recommend you email the local school board members and let them know they should be accepting and using this grant.
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