About one in six children ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, according to the National Association on Mental Illness, numbers that likely have increased because of stresses brought on by the pandemic and collapsing economy. At Dallas Independent School District, the demand for mental health services was already outstripping resources, so ahead of the school year set to start virtually Sept. 8, DISD is hiring 53 additional licensed mental health clinicians to support students and their families.
This will almost double the number of mental health professionals in the district, according to The Dallas Morning News. The district is set to spend about $5.8 million of its $1.6 billion general operating budget on the new positions. These clinicians will help students cope with mental health challenges.
“We want people to understand that they are not alone,” Dianna Smoot, director of mental health services at the district told The Hub. “This is a difficult time for so many, and we encourage anyone struggling with challenges such as depression and anxiety to reach out to us for support.”
DISD teachers and staff will also be given additional training in how to better support students experiencing trauma.
DISD is building social and emotional learning practices into each school day. This will incorporate time for teachers and students to emotionally touch base, allowing teachers to gauge how their students are doing and get ahead of any challenges.
Catching problems early and providing the right care for children and their families can make a difference in the lives of children with mental disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The district began expanding access to mental health services in July. For the 2020-2021 school year, DISD consolidated its youth and family centers and psychological and social services programs into one Mental Health Services Department.
The department currently conducts assessments, counseling and psychiatric services 100% online for families and students.
The increased focus on these services can likely be attributed to DISD’s assistant superintendent for school leadership, Leslie Stephens, assuming oversight of the district’s mental health efforts late last year. Stephens told the News she was appalled to discover that some students and families were waiting three months to get counseling or therapy.
In an emailed statement, a representative for the district said DISD has a 25-year history of providing mental health care services and targeted clinical interventions and treatment to students. "We believe that by addressing the physical, emotional and social issues that negatively impact a child, learning will be improved," the representative said.
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