County has need for more mental health services for youth

·4 min read

Jan. 29—One thing most mental health professionals in southern Indiana can agree upon is that there is a need for more services for kids in Daviess County.

That need led all of the Daviess County school corporations to reach out over the last several years to Youth First.

"We have placed masters level social workers in the schools, and if kids have any issues that are interfering with their ability to learn, they can go right down the hall to these master level social workers and talk with them at any time about whatever they need," said Jana Pritchett, communications manager for Youth First. "We are giving kids tools to handle life's stressors so that down the road, if something like the pandemic comes along or they are experience peer pressure or their parents are going through a divorce or they are having bouts of anxiety, they know what to do. We are trying to give kids tools so that when any of these types of stressors come along, they have some coping strategies."

Currently Youth First has five social workers in eight Daviess County schools providing access to mental health service to 3,577 students. In the past year they have identified 788 students in need of interventions and have been involved with 896 parent consultations.

"Maybe there is substance abuse going on in the home or they are experiencing anxiety or depression or suicidal thoughts so any of those types of things," said Pritchett. "Kids can be referred by a parent or a teacher or school administrator if they are seeing a lot of discipline trips to the office, they can refer themselves. If they feel they need to talk to somebody they can go right down to the Youth First counselor's office and they can begin meeting regularly once parental consent is given."

Officials say that many of the problems kids have been dealing with became even worse during the pandemic.

"The big reason they see kids is anxiety and depression and with the pandemic that has only exacerbated in the last couple of years," said Pritchett. "There is a great need for services for juveniles, especially with the pandemic."

Another reason for increased need is related to social media.

"There is a lot of cyber-bullying that goes on in social media. They will express things there that they would never say to another kids' face," said Pritchett. "Kids see other kids on social media and their highlight reel and they think those lives are perfect and they say my life doesn't look good compared to their social media. They are having lots of fun and I am home by myself. I know that for sure. The rise of social media has changed things."

Perhaps what if most disturbing is the rise in the number of potential suicide cases among Daviess County Youth.

"The teachers and administrators that we talk with definitely see an increase," said Pritchett. "There has been a 40% rise in suicide assessments since 2020 when the pandemic started. It's getting worse."

In fact, in some cases, it has become bad enough that Youth First counselors have to refer the juveniles to outside resources. Samaritan Center. Officials with the Daviess County office say they have an increasing problem in responding to those in need of help.

"We have a great need here for mental health services for juveniles like we have all over the country," said Outreach Clinical Supervisor for Samaritan Center in Daviess County John Schmelling. "In Daviess County there is a wait list. We don't have enough providers and there are a lot of people who need those services. Centerwide we are 28 days to an appointment in all of our areas for all services."

Schmelling says COVID has not only driven the need for more help but has also taken people out of the clinics to provide face-to-face help.

"COVID has put a strain on everyone," he said. "People are leaving the health care system. It is impacting people's mental health, so we have even more people seeking services than ever before."

Often one of the results of people with depression and anxiety is that they try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Officials say that is one place where Daviess County has reacted positively.

"Daviess County has had an amazing response to people seeking to recover from drug addiction issues," said Schmelling. "There are probably 10-to-15 organizations that are now providing drug counseling."

When it comes to Daviess County youth, there are several issues youth are trying to cope with.

"Problems, everything across the board, anxiety, depression, issues in the home all kinds of things," said Schmelling, who adds that in some of the more severe cases they rely on out-of-town facilities to provide more intensive care. "Crosspoint, The Harsha Center, The Meadows; those are the in-treatment facilities we rely upon."

Schmelling calls mental health services for kids a big problem that stretches across the country. He says that he does not have the answer but does say that it starts with getting more providers into the system.

"We are working on speeding up access and opening an access center," he said. "We need more providers across the state."