'It's been a strain for many': Wake County Schools reveal mental health plan for students, staff

Akilah Davis Image
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
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"Its just been a strain for so many in our system. I think the school system is a great place to make sure we have services available."

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina's largest school district is rolling out a new plan to help students and staffers better manage their mental health while improving student learning outcomes.

"It's just been a strain for so many in our system. I think the school system is a great place to make sure we have services available," said Wake County School Board Member Christine Kushner.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Wake County Public School Board held a work session, which was a passionate discussion between district leaders and mental health advocates. There was some questioning about access and the stigma associated with treatment.

"There are certain groups less comfortable traditionally seeking behavioral health support," explained school board member Tara Waters. "Are you seeing participation reflective of our school communities?"

A mental health professional replied.

"Yes, to answer your question, with the student population represented on the collaborative, there is diversity," said Wake County Public Schools Mental Health Coordinator.

The district has placed value on the need to increase on-site EAP services. It's a move that advocates say can help promote classroom achievement, but also save lives.

READ MORE: 'Medical crisis' ends school day early for Wendell Middle students

" We're seeing more and more young students come into our emergency rooms with attempted suicide or distress of some sort," said school board member Roxie Cash.

According to the CDC, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. It ranks second for children between the ages of 10 and 14. It ranks third for people ages 15 to 24.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in 2020, nearly 1,500 people took their lives across the state. Data shows males consistently have a higher number of suicides than females, regardless of age.

This is just one of the issues the district is tackling by holding parent night to make sure families are aware of the resources offered.

"Sometimes they combine it with PTA parent night and we call it 'keeping your child emotionally and physically safe,'" said Mark Cowell, Wake County Public Schools crisis prevention and intervention specialist.

Each day nearly 160,000 students attend one of the schools in this district. Though school leaders admit the new plan is a work in progress, they say revising it every five years with regular updates to the board will benefit the district as a whole.

"We want to keep it front and center," said Wake County School Board Chair Lindsay Mahaffey.