ABC Action News | By Larissa Scott | January 21, 2022
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — On Tuesday, the Hillsborough County School Board will vote on a new mental health plan.
“A lot of our students are experiencing some mental health concerns,” said Elizabeth Tanner, Supervisor of Emotional Wellness for Hillsborough County Schools.
Data from the Hillsborough County School District show that during the 2020-2021 school year, student services referred about 19,000 students for mental health services or assistance.
“Post pandemic students have been exposed to traumatic events either because of COVID with a parent losing perhaps finances, the cost of living going up. Perhaps they had a death in the family due to the pandemic,” said Tanner.
Hillsborough County School leaders said more students continue to need help.
Statewide there’s a sense of urgency to provide better mental health supports.
“The mental health needs in Hillsborough County and especially with our public schools is very important. We want to make sure that we’re continuing this good work. We’re enhancing programs with our legislative funds,” said Tanner.
That’s why the board is voting on a new mental health plan that focuses on expanding services.
“We then send this plan to the state and that’s how we receive our mental health allocation dollars from the legislation and from the state,” said Tanner.
The district is expected to get more money this year and with that leaders are hoping to provide more help to reach more students and families in need.
“We want our parents and our community to know that the school is a resource,” said Tanner.
The mental health plan outlines a continued effort by the district and different ways leaders want to use the funding including:
- more mental health awareness training for teachers
- threat assessment teams at each school
- suicide prevention
- mobile response teams
- hiring more mental health professionals to increase direct services
“We need therapists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, to be working with our students very closely during this time,” said Tanner.
The school district also wants to continue working with community partners to help students deal with mental health issues.
“Gracepoint Healthcare has been a wonderful partner to assist with students that are in crisis. We are able to more quickly and efficiently serve students who may have a mental health crisis to either divert and get services available or take those students to a receiving facility for further evaluation,” said Turner.
The district’s goal with this plan for the upcoming school year is to provide necessary support and interventions in a timely manner to make sure student needs are met in every school.
“We’re trying to lower stigma in general. Having students and families talking about the concerns that they have mental health-wise just encourages early intervention,” said Tanner.
“More emphasis that we put on why it’s important to understand emotional wellness, what it means to be mentally well, and to reach out for help when you’re having a mental health concern is very important,” she added.
The school board meeting begins at 4 p.m.