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Inside look at expansion of mental health resources at local schools

Back to school post-COVID looks vaguely familiar but behind the scenes, a lot has changed. The shift to tap into more mental and behavior health resources on school campuses across the Coachella Valley, a direct result of the pandemic.     

“We’re looking at not only learning loss, which we have great strategies in place for and are really looking at, but boy, that social-emotional piece that took a toll on all of us, really helping those students find their place again,” said Laura Fisher, Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services, Desert Sands Unified School District.     

According to a 2022 report released by the Department of Health and Human Services, Covid-19 disruptions led to children experiencing increased social isolation, anxiety and learning loss.

More than half of parents reported being concerned about children’s mental well-being     

And, emergency department visits for attempted suicides rose 51% among adolescent girls.     

Desert Sands Unified, understanding the dire need for access to mental health professionals is adding more on-site licensed mental health therapists to include all of their middle and high schools.     

“They’re part of the staff, the stigma of students going to see them, you know, is so lessened, they’re part of the community, discipline decreases, academics increase," said Fisher.

Also, new for this school year, the district received a nearly $300,000 grant from Desert Healthcare District to hire a behavior analyst and a registered nurse whose focus will solely be mental health.     

"To have that particular nurse that is qualified in that and understands that piece, to really help the family and the student and the staff make that successful transition back,” said Fisher.     

"We are here to provide them with the financial support they need with-in reason to create that infrastructure to create the programs and services that they can offer to their students and to the families of those students,” said Conrado Barzaga, Desert Healthcare District      

With mental health care professionals in demand Palm Springs Unified is offering other avenues for students to access services.    

“So that means not just in-person therapy and increasing our counseling staff, but also we’re contacting to be able to bring Telehealth services in for students to be able to access a direct therapy within the school day so they don’t have to travel anywhere,” said Lisa Todd, Coordinator Student Services, Palm Springs Unified School District.

Palm Springs Unified is currently putting together a team of social workers who will be assigned at school sites. Their expertise goes beyond counseling including addressing specific issues like drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and trauma.    

“The social workers right now, where we have them fall is kind of in the level between our school counselors and our mental health therapists, providing some more specific services anymore short term to be able to address specific issues," said Todd.     

Besides the pandemic, school shootings, like the one in Uvalde, Texas last May, could trigger fear so school staff is now designing instruction and being trained on how to respond to address the student's social and emotional well-being.      

“It’s a combination of all of these things that are helping our staff to be able to identify if students are struggling and be able to provide those supports, but also to create a very safe and welcoming environment so that students feel comfortable going to campus, being on campus, and then being able to ask for those resources and supports if those are needed for them,” said Todd.     

While there are more resources for mental and behavior health at all three school districts this school year, your child needs to attend school to take advantage of what is offered. A

ttendance, according to school officials, is the best way to get the support and help needed.

CVUSD Website

DSUSD Website

PSUSD Website

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Article Topic Follows: Education
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Karen Devine

Karen Devine is celebrating her 29th year delivering the local news as an anchor and reporter in the Palm Springs television market. Learn more about Karen here.

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