Taking a stance to help students with mental health problems

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Mental health problems can affect people of all ages, including our children.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Austin Independent School District police noticed a significant uptick in the number of mental health-related calls. Looking at the numbers now, there was a 40 percent increase of calls in 2013-2014 compared to the 2012-2013 school year.

AISD Police Chief Eric Mendez knew something had to be done. “I want to make sure our department is able to provide a service to those children that keeps them healthy and keeps them in school.”

Mendez designated a full-time officer to help students dealing with mental health related issues. That officer, Wayne Sneed, is trained to help students, as well as assist families in finding additional resources in the community.

“Mental health is no different than physical health,” says Sneed. “We catch colds, we get the flu, and go to the doctor.”

Officer Sneed says the age group he deals with most is middle school students. However, he helps students of all ages, as well as staff. One of the most common mental health issues he sees is anxiety.

Parents like Patricia Pickles are happy to see the school district take such a proactive stance.

“I unfortunately was pretty much in the dark, because I had not really seen this,” said Pickles.

When her son was 16, she could tell something about him was different. He was eventually diagnosed with a mental illness.

“It’s a very treacherous and trying time and difficult to talk about, but now, we have to talk,” Pickles said.

The Austin ISD Police Department is looking to add a second full-time mental health officer. They have applied for a grant and will hear back on that in the fall.

The officer is just one part of Austin ISD’s strategy for helping children with mental health needs. The district has 220 counselors and 15 clinical licensed social workers.

The district also has six Campus Based Counseling Referral Centers, and plans to expand. Those are collaborations with Seton Healthcare to provide deeper care than at the typical guidance counselor’s office.

Austin ISD also trains teachers and administrators to recognize mental health issues, including suicide prevention.

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