Hennepin County Commissioner Kevin Anderson has spent the past several weeks working with constituents on student mental health issues. The effort culminated in a town hall and panel discussion in September.
Dr. Mark Sander, senior clinical psychologist for Hennepin County and director of school mental health for Hennepin County and Minneapolis Public Schools, discussed the impact of the county’s expanded school-based mental health program in serving the public.
“School mental health is there to support all students’ needs, giving them what they need, when they need it. It means access to high-quality care and reducing stigma,” said Sander.
“We have 22 different mental health agencies that have a therapist in over 231 schools across Hennepin County,” said Sander. “Over 197 full-time therapists are mental health providers in schools, and we still need more. How do we make sure we’re funding all of it? Hennepin County used some of their pandemic response money – $2.2 million – to expand into 24 more schools to get us to every school in the county having one provider. Even with that, we’ve heard from other schools that they need more than one therapist.”
Cameron Monson provides therapy services at a middle school within Hennepin County District 7. Monson highlighted issues facing providers in the school settings, such as therapist shortages, and shared thoughts on how to improve services.
“Advocacy is really important. We help the teachers with different skills they can use. A lot of students we see don’t have the coping skills to work through things. Trauma responses happened not just for the student but also for the parent,” said Monson.
Osseo Area Schools Superintendent Cory McIntyre shared insights on how teachers and school staff work with students experiencing mental health challenges.
“School mental health is about prevention and intervention. We have to deal with both really well,” said McIntyre. “Our challenge in schools is to meet every step of that continuum. Our students have struggled coming back to school, with a sense of belonging, with a sense of increased stress and increased isolation. Our goal is to have all our students leaving our system to do whatever it is they choose and be awesome at it.”
Erik Fadden, director of public safety for the City of Plymouth, oversees the police and fire department for the city. Fadden, who has been in his position since February 2021, discussed experiences responding to the mental health of residents they serve.
“When it comes to mental health … any big incident, whether it’s at school or an incident a child is having at home, there are often factors and warning signs that someone saw,” said Fadden. “(Police) play an important role just having a seat at the table to discuss the warning signs and help school staff and parents work through it.”
Lauren Bialon, a parent of three girls, told the story of her oldest daughter’s mental health crisis and steps her family had to take to get through it. After her family’s experience, she has been helping other parents advocate for their children to access mental health services.
“School mental health is teaching students how to ground themselves, how to focus themselves when they are in crisis or semi-crisis, how to handle their emotions. There are some really big feelings going on in middle school, in high school,” said Bialon. “Social media plays a huge role in our kids’ lives these days. It’s toxic. It’s unhealthy for a developing brain. Our kids are shoved into some sort of account all day long. They are constantly being directed with information that tells them they are not good enough, that they don’t meet the standard. That’s a huge part of it.”
The panel discussion is available on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izo1jeAuNmo