GRANADA– The Granada Huntley East Chain (GHEC) school district has contracted with Lindsey Keithahn, an outpatient therapist, to provide school-linked mental health services for students. Under the terms of the agreement, Keithahn will visit GHEC for one-on-one in-person weekly sessions.
While these sessions are not free, financial assistance is available for students who are uninsured or otherwise unable to pay for them. The goal of the contract is to improve access to mental health services for GHEC students by removing barriers which could prevent students from receiving mental health treatment.
Numerous barriers can exist for students experiencing mental health issues. They may be unable to get treatment due to financial concerns, transportation difficulties, or a lack of mental health professions in the area. These barriers can be particularly acute in rural areas covered by the GHEC district, where students may need to travel to Mankato, Rochester, or the Twin Cities for in-person therapy sessions.
“Sometimes the wait is three months out when you’re going to a counseling center, whereas when we have one on site here kids can meet with them on a weekly basis,” said GHEC social worker Kari McGregor.
When barriers prevent students from accessing treatment, untreated mental health issues can worsen learning outcomes for both students and their peers. While the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened students’ mental health, McGregor said improvements to the school’s mental health services were needed even before the pandemic.
“We need to make sure that our kids’ mental health is in a stable place so they can be successful,” said McGregor.
Mental health treatment in a school environment has significant differences compared to treating adults.
One challenge of working with students can be the difficulty of identifying mental health issues. Symptoms may not immediately present themselves and can be difficult to link to a specific cause without a formal assessment.
“It might come out as ‘I’m not getting my homework done,’ or ‘I’m having a conflict with peers at school;’ things that teachers and other school staff often see,” said Keithahn.
Ultimately a child can be referred to counseling if it could treat a source of major distress.
“Look at how much impact it’s having … in that child’s life even if the root of it isn’t necessarily known,” said Keithahn.
Keithahn said anxiety, followed by depression, are the two most common issues she works on with students.
School-linked treatment can also have some major advantages; in addition to making mental health treatment more accessible, school-linked services allow therapists to work directly with teachers and parents to address students’ needs outside of therapy sessions.
“The biggest difference is being open to using more of a team approach, whether it’s parents, school staff, foster parents, (etc.), using that integrated approach is often what’s most effective and that’s less common with adults,” said Keithahn.
Once in a therapy environment, students may also be more communicative than adults.
“Sometimes kids can identify things and say things more matter of factly than adults,” said Keithahn.
Keithahn currently has the capacity to see three to four students over the course of half a day, but if there is enough demand this could be expanded to seven or eight students over a course of a full day. She can typically work with students ages five and up, and can work with parents and students in a session when it’s appropriate.