School officials working to improve student mental health

Focus on students' mental health this school year
Published: Jul. 24, 2022 at 9:49 PM CDT
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BESSEMER, Ala. (WBRC) - School begins in just a few weeks for many area students and it can be a stressful time for them. A big topic of conversation right now is their mental health.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, reports on mental health struggles nationwide increased.

With a new school year approaching, officials are hoping to address the mental health of our students.

“It’s a struggle for Alabama, it’s a struggle nationwide, and its a struggle for our kids,” said Dr. Wes Stubblefield with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

He says while these struggles for students aren’t new, the amount of kids dealing with them can be.

“We’ve seen increased levels of eating disorders, anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Stubblefield. “Those kinds of things that go along with some of the social isolation and the anxiety and fear felt where we are with some of the violence that we’ve seen.”

Increased violence and the COVID-19 pandemic are only a few reasons students are struggling. Social media is causing other hurdles.

Dr. Autumm Jeter, the superintendent of Bessemer City Schools says she’s noticed students dealing with issues that stem from self-image, fitting in, and even bullying.

This coming year, the superintendent is placing mental health as a top priority for the district.

They recently finished a summer retreat with employees, teachers, and school leaders. She says mental health awareness and student self care were two of the topics they focused on. She says now everyone is refreshed on the signals to look out for when students may be struggling.

Dr. Jeter says the school district has two mental health therapists: one focuses on K-8 grades and the other focuses on high school. She says they step in when there’s increased concern for a student.

“It’s by referral so you have your first level which is your traditional school counselors,” said Dr. Jeter. “As those school counselors talk further with students and it may seem a little bit more serious, a little bit more deep and the next level is needed... that’s when our counselors or our teachers or administrators follow the process of referring those students onto the mental health counselors.”

Both Dr. Jeter and Dr. Stubblefield stressed the importance of parents or guardians paying close attention to their students. If they start acting different or distant, it may be time to seek professional help.

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