More young children need mental health services than teenagers

Cassia Catterall Gillette News Record via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Mental health concerns — prevalent across Gillette — are also on the rise in schools, and this school year, more younger children were referred for help than their older peers.

From August through December 2022, 209 Campbell County elementary school students were referred to a mental health counselor compared to 181 high school students.

“It was surprising to us that we had more middle school students referred than middle school or elementary school,” said Kip Farnum, director of student support services for the school district.

The data he received for students referred by grade was also impressive. Sixth graders had the most students – 40 – followed by sophomores, freshmen, fourth graders and sophomores.

“This was a little surprising to me initially,” he said. “You can see that we are referring kindergarten students, first and second graders at almost the same level that we are referring many of our high school students. This is worrying. It’s pretty consistent all the way through.”

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To deal with the overwhelming numbers, the district partners with five local agencies: The Kid Clinic, Behavioral Health Services, YES House, Free Indeed and The Counseling Center.

“All these agencies combined give us these different levels of intervention and it really seems to work well with our entire program right now,” Farnum said.

But even with the increase in membership, the demand for directors has not been met.

In December, Farnum said the waiting list for a counselor was 10. It is now 80.

He attributed part of that number to students waiting at the Kid Clinic rather than another agency because of direct transportation from the school to the clinic.

“I don’t know if Mr. Chrans is here, but he’s our hero,” Farnum said of the transportation services director. “It shuttles kids from school to Kid Clinic and back and reduces our no-show rate to almost nothing. He pretty much transports all the kids who have mental health appointments, so we love the transport.”

During the first semester of the school year, around 60 students per week were referred to the Kid Clinic. The increased use of the clinic has not just been noticed by the school district.

“Last week, the hospital even said to me, ‘Hey, would you guys be willing to do another Kid Clinic,’” Farnum said.

In August, the waiting time between referral and the child’s first care was about 19 days. In November, it peaked at 63 days before dropping to 46 in December.

About 80 students were discharged, while 180 remained in counseling and another 115 refused assistance or went to another body.

A highlight of the conversation revolved around the decrease in students who have died by suicide over the past five years. Farnum said that while there were nine student deaths between 2013 and 2016, there has been a drop to one since 2017.

Farnum credited the reduction to Hope Squads, peer-referred students looking for signs of unhappiness in their classmates, and additional staff training.

Hope Squads are now in 14 district schools and all new district staff were trained in suicide prevention in August. Nutrition, maintenance and transportation are receiving training, and two certified mental health first aid instructors led 27 employees through training in February.

More young children need mental health services than teenagers

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