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Mental health key issue for community to address Linda Powers / School Board Member

Tis the season: November and December bring an avalanche of emotions. We rejoice as we celebrate the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year and others, but we also experience sadness thinking of those who can’t join us or who have passed. Other issues may also impact us from uncompromising work schedules to financial constraints. Smiles can turn to frowns. These emotions, very normal and very wide-spread, are part of the complex human condition and challenge us to deal with them in perspective; however, the feelings sometimes amass or are so intense that a crisis is reached. Mr. Gerry Mulligan, publisher of the Chronicle, and Ms. Marilyn Booth, head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) group in Citrus County, referenced these overwhelming moments and other emotionally devastating situations. Both agreed that Citrus County does not have adequate mental health resources to assist those who constitute the statistics gathered by NAMI: 18.1 percent of American adults live with anxiety disorders; 6.9 percent of America adults live with major depression; and 1 in 100 (2.4 million) American adults live with schizophrenia. Referencing our youth, NAMI indicates that

70 percent of youth in the state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness; 11 percent of youth have a mood disorder; and 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24. The situation is indeed dire and must be addressed.

In the past few years, the school system has worked diligently to increase the number of mental health providers working in the system who recognize struggling students, work with them and help families find resources to assist them. As a school board member with certification in Guidance and Counseling and a former Mental Health Therapist, I am particularly focused on the mental/emotional aspects of education and continue to seek and support additions to our school mental health providers and programs. The coming New Year promises additional programs and trainings to help our students. At present, we have seven social workers (an increase of 3 since 2010). Ten school psychologists work in the schools, up from four in 2010.

As far as certified school counselors are concerned, there are 11 in the elementary school (one per school); eight counselors in the middle schools (two per school); 15 counselors in the high schools (five per school); one counselor at the special needs school; and one counselor at the technical college. The number of counselors per school follows a staffing plan; however, the staffing plan could be modified in the future to reflect more need-based considerations.

The school mental health services work with community providers when possible. Monetary restraints to places such as the Centers impact how much work can be done. More partnering is planned for in 2018.

The schools continually have seminars to learn more about programs and interventions that work for students. Plans are underway to implement, expand and develop additional programs that have proven successful in other school systems.

I hope the Chronicle readers will respond to the invitations of Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Booth and to my added entreaty to support mental health services and funding. Remember the Greek’s concept: a healthy mind in a healthy body is the goal.

Linda Powers is a member of the Citrus County School Board.

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