A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Three Kentucky school districts receive federal funding to improve mental health resources

Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

School districts in Bullitt, Henderson and Warren counties have received $9 million in federal funding to improve mental health services for students.

Kentucky is one of only four states to get this year’s Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) grants.

The School Safety and Resiliency Act, which requires public school districts in Kentucky to boost mental-health resources, goes into effect July 1. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

Shericka Smith, coordinator of extended school services, social work and mental health services for Fayette County Public Schools, said her team has been able to use previous AWARE grant funds to train thousands of staff members and parents in a curriculum called “Youth Mental Health First Aid.”

According to Smith, more and more students seem to be struggling with mental health issues.

“We have seen an increase in referrals to outside agencies, referrals to our mental-health resources in the schools,” she explained. “So, we have seen parents reach out more. Our student support staff has done a great job in trying to explain to parents that it is OK – it’s nothing to be ashamed about if you need mental-health resources.”

Kentucky’s School Safety and Resiliency Act, which requires public school districts to boost mental-health resources and utilize School Resource Officers, goes into effect on July 1.

Smith listed anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts as the most commonly diagnosed mental-health conditions among youths. She also pointed out that social-media use is contributing to the rise in mental-health crises in schools across the country.

“I do think that a lot of kids are moving toward social media for acceptance, and if they don’t get that, it may increase depression and suicidal thoughts and anxiety,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of cyberbullying. Parents need to certainly monitor that.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Kentucky’s youth and young adults and, in 2017, 15 percent of Kentucky high school students reported having seriously considered suicide within a 12-month period, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

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