AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott’s action plan, released after a roundtable discussion he organized in the aftermath of the Santa Fe school shooting, involves expanding resources so more students can have easy access to mental health counseling.
In Austin, KXAN found local schools try to be proactive about providing therapy by having mental health clinics on campus.
On-campus therapists help students struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma and other issues they may be dealing with at home or school.
“Young people can feel that they can trust somebody on campus to share those thoughts with, which is so important,” said Laura Rifkin, therapist and assistant director of school-based services at Vida Clinic.
Those clinics are open year round. “Mental health doesn’t know school seasons,” Rifkin said. ” It doesn’t run on the same calendar that schools run on.”
Forty out of 130 AISD schools have in-school therapists. At the other schools and other districts that don’t have in-school clinics, if students need help, they have to go find a therapist on their own.
Sarah Luna Newcomer started seeing a therapist when she was at Crockett High School. She said having a therapist she could see at her school helped her and her family tremendously.
“It’s pretty daunting to be able to find a therapist,” said her mother, Lara Newcomer. “If you have good insurance, you can go through your insurance company, but then you have to go through all the filters, are they taking new patients, do they take this insurance?”
Sarah Newcomer said it’s also important that students who have access to a therapist use that service year round.
“During the summer, it’s so much easier to be extremely anti-social and introverted,” she explained. “You don’t have that set schedule, and for people with mental health issues, a set schedule helps to give them motivation to regular day-to-day activities.”
According to AISD, from August 2017 to December 2017, there were 819 self-reported cases of suicidal thoughts. That’s from elementary, middle and high schools.
The district held 1,319 counseling sessions for suicidal thoughts and 1,695 intensive cases involving students and their families.
The Newcomers said those statistics show the need is there for more schools to provide year-round mental health help.
“Schools should not just be a well-rounded education,” Sarah Newcomer said. “It should be well rounded on how to live your life.”
Vida Clinic and Integral Care partner with AISD to provide on-campus counseling. Integral Care is also in Pflugerville, Del Valle and Manor.