Local school corporation addressing mental health in partnership


Officials with Seymour Community Schools are taking a big step to reach and help students with mental illness and their families.

The school district recently began to develop a day treatment program and provide more services and options within the schools to meet the needs of students who have a variety of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues.

Through a partnership with Meridian Health Services in Muncie, students will have access to behavior clinicians, licensed clinical therapists and psychiatric support in their schools to address depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, drug and alcohol use, violence, anger and other conditions.

Although the partnership is in its initial stages, school officials hope to begin offering services during the 2018-19 school year.

“A lot of steps are being taken to investigate how we can accomplish this because this is a pretty big endeavor,” said Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education. “We’ve had lots of discussion as an administrative team on the growing need in the area of mental health.”

Administrators have been looking at alternative programs for students and have visited a couple of day treatment programs around the state to observe how others are implementing it, Ahlbrand said.

“The options for this are definitely limited in our area, and the needs are continuing to grow,” Ahlbrand said of mental health services.

There are only a few residential facilities in the state that take children, she said.

“Our goal at Seymour schools is not to send our children to Indianapolis or Lafayette or Terre Haute or Fort Wayne,” she said. “Our goal would be to have a site and a location here where students could go to this very intensive program and then return home to mom and dad and the family.”

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions about whether the day program will be offered at one of the schools or at another building, Superintendent Rob Hooker said.

“We’re not sure if we have room or how we can do this yet, but we need the psychiatric support, and (Meridian Health Services) can help us get started. We can’t do it on our own,” he said. “This is a new area for us.”

There is no cost to the school district to work with Meridian Health Services, Ahlbrand said. The only requirement of the school corporation is to give Meridian the space it needs to provide services and support to students and their families.

“We’re excited to explore that,” she said.

The biggest challenge for the corporation is coming up with a location for the day program, Hooker said.

Meridian currently has programs in more than 280 schools across 40 counties in Indiana. The federally qualified health center also has programming to support students with intellectual disabilities or special needs and offers wrap-around services for families in their homes and communities, Ahlbrand said.

Students needing mental health services will be identified and referred to Meridian by teachers, school counselors and administrators. Services would only be implemented with parental support and written consent, Ahlbrand said.

By addressing mental health in students, she said the corporation is fulfilling its mission of serving all children, providing remarkable service to families, giving students the opportunity to learn, laugh, love and remain safe and having compassion.

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