State expands mental health resource for teachers, school personnel, and their families

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- NCDHHS is expanding a program aimed at enhancing mental health resources for teachers, school personnel and their families.

The Hope4Healers Helpline (1-855-587-3463) will connect those in need with mental health personnel and support staff from NCDHHS and the North Carolina Psychological Foundation.

"Sometimes when you're super stressed, it's hard to get through that irrational anxiety to a place of rational action," said Kody Kinsley, the Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health at NCDHHS.

Teachers have now had two school years impacted, and the lingering nature of the pandemic has created planning difficulties for both staffers and students.

"Our teachers are working on the front lines, and they're also tasked with a very difficult time as they face their own going through this crisis, and at the same time trying to support a lot of young people with unpredictable and unprecedented conditions. The type of intervention that we're providing through Help4Healers is meant to support them and offer them more resilience so that they can do important work that they need to do," said Dr. Tatyana Kholodkov, the Co-Chair of the North Carolina Disaster Response Task Force.

Dr. Kholodkov, who serves as Co-Chair with Dr. Andrew Short, noted that unlike many crises they respond to, COVID-19 is lingering and spread further than one single area.

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"It does fit into what we do completely. It is a disaster, and it is an ongoing disaster," explained Dr. Short. "It's in many ways, it's much more complex than other disasters because of the ongoing nature, because of the universal nature of it. And it's also it's new to all of us, including those of us in the mental health community so we're learning as we go as well."

"We know that what happens in the classroom or what happens in a teaching environment is so much more than just teaching. Kids are getting nurtured, they're getting supported, their growth and development will set them up for success for a lifetime. We also know that adverse childhood experiences and other sorts of traumatic experiences impact kids for a lifetime. So I think it's really important is by supporting teachers through Help4Healers and other strategies, we're trying to make sure that this moment doesn't have a generational impact on the health and well-being of our kids," said Kinsley.

Whitney Tucker, the Policy Director for advocacy group NC Child, believes this is a good opportunity to add more nurses and mental health professionals to schools, in an effort to alleviate the burden of teachers and better serve students.

"(Teachers are) supposed to teach content and also be pseudo-parents, and also be doing temperature checks and things like that now. And all of that is just unreasonable. And I don't think it's going to be safe for kids in the long run," said Tucker.

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"I'd say teachers are a bit underappreciated already, and they're one of those groups that we recognize now are really very essential workers, doing a highly-skilled workers, probably not paid as much as they should be to do it. Now they're facing a situation where many of them are being forced into situations where they're uncomfortable and putting themselves at physical risk so that creates a lot of stress," said Dr. Short, who added the health threats teachers families also could face, as well as the uneven schedule teachers are forced to prepare for, are other obstacles they must contend with.

Tucker discussed the health fears associated with teaching in-person.

"Teachers are just people too, and they go home to families (and) have their own children, and in some cases they might have their own health risks or pre-existing conditions or people that they live with - parents, older folks in their home - that they could be putting at risk," explained Tucker.

Up until now, Hope4Healers has forced their work on first responders, health care and child care professionals, serving more than 160 people.

If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text "CONNECT" to 741741. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support.
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