Kentucky School Offers Free Mental Health Services Amid Youth Mental Health Crisis

Kentucky's rural teens are more likely to be disconnected from mental health resources.

Health officials say there's not enough therapists and counselors in rural Kentucky to care for the growing population of youth with anxiety and depression. - Photo: AdobeStock
Photo: AdobeStock
Health officials say there's not enough therapists and counselors in rural Kentucky to care for the growing population of youth with anxiety and depression.

A pilot program launched by the Todd County School District and the county's local health department offers free mental health case management services to all public-school students.

The needs outweigh the help

Abby Dill, Axis program supervisor for the Todd County Health Department, said anxiety, depression and self-harm are on the rise among Kentucky youths. She explained there are not enough therapists and counselors in rural communities to meet the growing need, and said in the aftermath of the pandemic, students are struggling with emotional well-being.

"Doing a case-management model allowed us to do a needs assessment," Dill pointed out. "And really provide wraparound services and work with people in our rural community to tap into services that existed and see where service gaps existed, so we could build on those within our program."

Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows the state saw a 28% increase in children's anxiety or depression between 2016 and 2020. And recent data shows more than one in seven Kentucky high school students reported having seriously considered suicide.

Assistance beyond mental health

Mark Thomas, superintendent of the Todd County Public School District, said the Axis program also helps students access food, clothing, housing and transportation, and substance-abuse treatment.
"It's one of those ideas of 'it takes a village to raise a child.' We incorporate that," Thomas emphasized. "And then we also think of ourselves as a family. We're all one big family looking out for the best interests of each other, not just our children, but also with our staff."

Allison Adams, vice president for policy at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said Thomas was recently recognized for his efforts with a Kentucky Healthy Champions Award. She added across the state, individuals are coming up with solutions to improve their communities.

"There's opportunities to lift up people in your communities who are working to influence health," Adams stressed. "Think about who that person is in your community and consider nominating them for the Healthy Kentucky champion class of 2023."

Know your resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental-health crisis, contact the national Suicide and Crisis hotline by calling or texting 988 to get help from a trained crisis counselor.

This story was originally published by Public News Service and republished here with permission.

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