CHS Approves New Mental Health Services Through Ascension St. Vincent

Darshini Shankar

On Aug. 24, the school board approved a plan to provide mental health services at CHS. In order to carry out this plan, Ascension St. Vincent personnel will provide these services.

According to Mental Health Coordinator Stephanie Whiteside, the mental health services that will be offered are not limited to therapy.

Whiteside said, “We will be able to provide mental health services to students in the school. Services would include individual therapy, family therapy (and) skill-building.” 

These services will be available throughout the school district via various personnel who have been approved by administrators. Whiteside said that there will be two therapists and one skills technician starting at the high school in October.

According to Superintendent Michael Beresford, having therapists in the school will help students receive the help they need.

“The idea behind (this plan) is to remove the barriers (with) accessing mental health (services),” Beresford said. “If we had a student right now that is (at the) school and then (had) an appointment, their parent would have to leave their job, come pick them up, take them to the appointment, wait for an hour, have to drive them back to school and then go back to work.”

Beresford also said in-school therapists will work on professional development with teachers.

“So, I think they’ll probably be doing some good professional development on how (staff members) can support kids that may be struggling with anxiety, depression or trauma,” Beresford said.

According to Whiteside, the therapists will be able to work with teachers while maintaining the students’ confidentiality.  

Whiteside said, “Therapists and skill builders will follow HIPAA law, which means that they’re not able to share information with anybody outside of that student and the family without written and verbal permission… and then even when they do have permission to share information, it’s (on) a need-to-know (basis).”

Although a friend or family member can refer a student, it is ultimately up to them to decide to move forward with therapy.

According to Whiteside, the mental health services will be more intensive than those provided by counselors and other personnel currently at the school.

“We’re fortunate in our buildings that we have social workers, counselors and psychologists that can respond to general mental health needs,” Whiteside said, “but what we find is that some students may have more intense needs where they may need to be seen more regularly.”

While the mental health  partnership with Ascension St. Vincent is new, this school has had a working relationship with Ascension St. Vincent for over 15 years, with them providing athletic trainers and school nurses, along with services at the CCS wellness center.

 According to Associate Superintendent Roger McMichael, this partnership allows the district to provide better access to mental health services.

McMichael said, “The district is not providing free therapy for students. Rather, we’re providing access (to be able to get therapy. Ascension St. Vincent) has been vetted by the (school district) so we’re satisfied that the therapists are highly qualified.”

According to Beresford, this mental health partnership has been a part of our plan since he became the district superintendent, planning to further the Culture of Care program by promoting mental health. 

Beresford said, “I’m just excited to see what comes next and how many kids that’ll be in a better spot and be in a better trajectory because of the work that’s being done right now.” 

According to McMichael, the school board wishes to see that every student who needs mental health services receives them.

McMichael said, “Historically there’s been some stigma associated with mental health. If you physically get ill, you go to the doctor and you don’t feel stigmatized by that. It should be the same way with mental health.”