GRANADA – The Granada Huntley East Chain (GHEC) School District has contracted with Lindsey Keithahn, an outpatient therapist, to provide school-related mental health services to students. Under the terms of the agreement, Keithahn will visit GHEC for weekly sessions in person.
While these sessions are not free, financial aid is available for students who are uninsured or otherwise unable to pay for them. The purpose of the contract is to improve access to mental health services for GHEC students by removing barriers that may prevent students from receiving mental health treatment.
Numerous barriers may exist for students experiencing mental health problems. They may not be able to receive treatment due to financial concerns, transportation difficulties, or a lack of mental health professionals in the area. These barriers can be particularly acute in rural areas covered by the GHEC district, where students may need to travel to Mankato, Rochester, or the Twin Cities for in-person therapy sessions.
“Sometimes the wait is three months when you go to a counseling center, whereas when we have one in place here kids can meet with them on a weekly basis.” said GHEC social worker Kari McGregor.
When barriers prevent students from accessing treatment, untreated mental health issues can worsen learning outcomes for both students and their peers. While the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened student mental health, McGregor said improvements in school mental health services were needed even before the pandemic.
“We need to make sure our kids’ mental health is in a stable place so they can be successful.” McGregor said.
The treatment of mental health in a school setting has significant differences compared to the treatment of adults.
A challenge of working with students can be the difficulty in identifying mental health issues. Symptoms may not appear immediately and may be difficult to link to a specific cause without a formal evaluation.
“It could come out as ‘I’m not doing my homework’ or ‘I’m having a conflict with my peers at school;’ things that teachers and other school staff see often,” Keith said.
Ultimately, a child may be referred to counseling if they can handle a source of major distress.
“Look at the impact it has … on that child’s life even if the root of it isn’t necessarily known.” Keith said.
Keithahn said anxiety, followed by depression, are the two most common issues she works with students on.
School-based treatment can also have some major advantages; in addition to making mental health treatment more accessible, school-based services allow therapists to work directly with teachers and parents to address students’ needs outside of therapy sessions.
“The biggest difference is being open to using more of a team approach, whether it’s parents, school staff, foster parents, (etc.), using that integrated approach is often what’s most effective and less common with adults.” Keith said.
Once in a therapy setting, students may also be more communicative than adults.
“Sometimes children can identify things and say more important things than adults.” Keith said.
Keithahn currently has the capacity to see three to four students over a half-day, but if there is sufficient demand, this could be expanded to seven or eight students over a full-day course. She can usually work with students aged five and over and can work with parents and students in one session when appropriate.