By Hamilton Richardson
With schools closed for the summer, memories of recent school shootings are still fresh in the minds of many educators and strategies are being strengthened to specifically address student mental health in preparation for the upcoming school year.
With school shootings and suicide being two current and significant issues across the country, schools are making sure they know how to help when help is needed most.
Rashawn Blassingame, who is the Special Education Supervisor, School Mental Health Coordinator, and 504 coordinator for Elmore County Schools, is busy making sure that when the new year begins, the mental health of students across the county is a top priority.
“I am the go-to person for any mental health issue and then filter it to schools, parents and local agencies if necessary,” Blassingame said, adding that the student’s mental state and stability are his first priority. “I usually try to speak directly to the students or ask the counselors to speak to them directly to check on their general condition. If a student is in crisis, we will notice the warning signs and ask for help.
Every counselor and nurse undergoes training in mental health first aid so schools are prepared for a situation if it arises, the special education supervisor said.
“Each school was equipped with a mental health resource guide and binder and we try to keep them up to date with all the latest information,” she said. “We plan to train more staff and make everyone better understand the subject that people don’t like to talk about. It’s okay not to be well, but it’s okay not to get help.
Blassingame said it was important to feel more comfortable talking about suicide and mental health issues.
“My goal is to make mental health as important as our physical health,” she commented.
The school system’s efforts go beyond the classroom, the counselor said, when it comes to student mental health.
“We contact parents when it’s serious and they (students) are threatening to harm themselves or others,” she said. “We let students know that we are there for them whenever they need us and that they are our priority. My mental health role is a 24/7 position. Mental health issues don’t just happen during school hours. Parents, students and staff know that if there is a problem after hours, I try to make myself available. »
Blassingame pointed to a system Elmore County schools use to help manage a potential crisis before it happens.
“We have an ALGEE action plan when it comes to noticing the signs of a mental health crisis,” she explained. “This action is taught during the Mental Health First Aid training. We To access the situation. We are looking for the risk of suicide or harm. Then, we Listen without judgement. We treat every situation very seriously and focus on the status of the child. We don’t pass judgment or dismiss everything, we treat every situation as if it were a priority. We have next Give reassurance to let students know we hear them and are there for them. We have next Encourage to get professional help. Finally U.S Encourage help each other and help them find a support system and develop a plan for physical self-care.
The educator said the system is partnered with therapists from Carastar Health, formerly Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority.
Elmore County Schools are always looking to improve to help students in mental health crisis so it doesn’t lead to something worse.
“More staff need to be trained in mental health first aid and familiarized with a sensitive topic,” Blassingame said. “If we educate our staff and students about mental health issues, it’s easier to talk about it and deal with it. The more we know, the more we grow.