COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Columbus schools are taking steps to reach out to students dealing with mental health barriers.
Columbus City Schools said helping children thrive means addressing the whole child. In some cases, CCS recognizes a need for mental health help during school hours, so some schools now even offer behavioral health counselors to students within the school's walls, pending a guardian’s consent.
Schools are training kids to better identify mental health distress in class or the halls.
The Signs of Suicide is a prevention program that is offered for grades 6-12. The goal of the SOS program is to teach students and staff the risks and warnings signs for suicidal behavior. The Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at NCH partners with a number of schools in CCS to provide training, assessment and link referrals to the NCH therapists placed in the schools.
Columbus City School counselors and school social workers partner with Nationwide Children's Hospital resources and behavioral health therapists to deliver the SOS program within buildings.
Registered Nurse Deidre Opoku said she's helped children within Columbus City Schools. She said symptoms of students suffering emotional distress sometimes appear to be a physical illness as class begins, but could actually be a sign of a child who needs to speak with a counselor. Another sign could be a student acting out during class, Opoku said.
"Those are clearly the most obvious," said Opoku. "We try to educate our teachers on the subtle ones too, because a lot of times those students can fall through the cracks."
She explained within CCS there is help on school grounds through a partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital. The NCH Behavioral Health School-Based program is in 45 CCS school buildings. There are health clinics that also provide medical services in 14 of these schools.
During the 2018-2019 school year to date, there were 1,498 student referral cases to NCH behavioral health therapists.
Suicide has become the second-leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 19 years and Nationwide Children's Hospital Clinical Coordinator of School-Based Programs Kamilah Twymon said this mental health help inside schools could help change the trend. Twymon said she believes things are improving from when she began her charge four years ago.
"At that time we had 11 therapists, now we're up to 44. So that speaks to the need," Twymon said of the growing number of therapists.
The teamwork of school and hospital staff mean a child struggling emotionally could go to the nurse's office with signs of distress and with a parent's consent and could begin behavioral health treatment sooner.
"The goal is to treat those who need it and equip as many students as possible with techniques to deal with stress," said CCS Director of Social, Emotional & Student Support Services Cheryl Ward. "A part of our job as educators is not to just educate academically, but to educate students with the soft skills, educate them socio-emotionally so they can navigate better."
School leaders say the mental health partnership seems to be moving the needle for some students.
"I have a lot of students who were a little troubled last year but this year are soaring, making honor roll," said Opoku. "I'm very proud of them."
Nationwide Children's Hospital offers help and resources online through its "On Our Sleeves" program.