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HomeHealthTackling Mental Health in Anne Arundel County Schools

Tackling Mental Health in Anne Arundel County Schools

Anne Arundel County’s Mental Health Task Force is working its way toward increased access to mental health care for students.

Mental health issues among teens and youth are on the rise nationwide. Numerous studies point to increased use in social media as a leading cause. While mental health is multifaceted, and social media use cannot be solely to blame, there is no denying the fact that access to technology and smart phone use in general has made a mark on the youth population. Increased access to social media often leads to “fear of missing out” and aspirations for the level of perfection that youth see on their screens. Cyber bullying has become more prevalent with more youth having access to social media and online gaming platforms. 

According to a recent report from the CDC, teen suicide rates in the United States have rapidly increased over the last decade. Suicide is now ranked as the second leading cause of death among 15- to 25-year-olds.

In May of 2019 Anne Arundel County Public School board member Melissa Ellis brought up the idea to address the rise in the number of students needing mental health services in the county. The board voted unanimously to put her proposed efforts into action by creating a Mental Health Task Force.Healthgraphic 194584361.350x241

Director of student services, Ryan Voegtlin, and executive director of the Anne Arundel Mental Health Agency, Adrienne Mickler, have been working in collaboration with Anne Arundel County Public Schools officials to help bring awareness, education, and insight into the lives of youth and families.

Voegtlin worked with chief communications officer, Bob Mosier; deputy superintendent, Monique Jackson; and superintendent, George Arlotto to develop a proposal for what the structure of the task force would look like. After developing a working proposal, Dr. Arlotto then met with County Executive Steuart Pittman to involve both the community and the
school system.

The task force’s aim is to lessen the likelihood of individuals suffering detrimental consequences from mental health needs being left untended.
“Two of the biggest things we are seeing,” says Voegtlin, “are an increase in the number of younger children who are displaying more difficult behaviors and more signs of aggression and other behavior issues in the school setting, as well as a lack of coping skills among students.”

He also mentioned that since 2012 the county has seen an increase in the number of reports pertaining to suicide and self-harm. Pinpointing the exact cause of increase in these sorts of behaviors and reports can be speculative, though Voegtlin says that better reporting and in-depth training among teachers and staff have led to getting better at spotting issues early on.
Within the county, officials keep track of self-harm and suicide reports supplied by schools. Risk assessments are made and both the county and the schools work cohesively to address each report taking suitable action to protect those involved.

In September, the Mental Health Task Force held its first of four planned meetings. The task force is comprised of 70 members including board members and members of AACPS staff. The chief of communications and director for safe and orderly schools are involved, as is the office of physical education and health. In an effort to be as far reaching as possible, the list of task force members is impressively expansive, including principals, assistant principals, school social workers, and individuals from the expanded school based mental health services department. Representatives from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) of AA County, the MD coalition for families, Youth Suicide Awareness Action Team, Anne Arundel Medical Center, and Baltimore Washington Medical Center are involved, as is the chief of police. Parents and students are giving their insight as well, including representatives from McArthur Middle’s student leadership program and Severna Park High School’s teen mental health advisory.

It is the hope of the county that by involving members from various organizations that the far-reaching and diverse aspects of mental health needs can be fully addressed. At the first meeting the task force split into subcommittees to identify some of the contributing factors to the increase in mental health needs in children and focus on ways to properly address each issue. Subcommittees will focus their efforts on specific issues or subcultures of the mental health spectrum. They will then explore their specified area of focus including topics such as stress and pressure, impacts of social media, substance abuse, LGBTQ needs, trauma exposure, poverty, discrimination and racism.

Some of the questions being asked in the meetings are what are the biggest contributing factors to mental health, what resources are currently available, what can we do to better collaborate as a community, and how can we better educate? In discussing these questions the task force hopes to identify specific areas for improvement and collaboration to better serve the needs of students and families.

After the four scheduled meetings the task force aims to develop a plan of action based on the findings of each subcommittee. The overall intention is to remove the stigma associated with mental health concerns and implement parent education courses to address these needs in the home. “We need to provide better parent, student, and staff education,” says Voegtlin. The task force plans to examine programs like Mental Health First Aid to use some of their research based courses for education purposes.

Voegtlin stresses the fact that although the task force is a work in progress, it does not mean that there is not mental health help available now. “A student’s best line of action is the school counselor. That should be the first person a student goes to,” he says. All schools have a school psychologist and school based social workers available as well. When asked where individuals who are not in the school system could go for help, including those in homeschool communities, Voegtlin suggests the warmline as a resource, and utilizing the mobile crisis team. Systems of Care, a partnership between all local child-serving agencies, is also an invaluable resource
for families.

By April, after the four meetings have taken place, the task force will have recommendations to present to the school board, according to Bob Mosier. The last two meetings
are planned for January 24 and March 25, and will be open to the public. Details are available online at aacps.org/mentalhealthtaskforce.

Anne Arundel County Crisis Warmline: 410-768-5522; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Systems of Care: 800-485-0041

—Jillian Amodio

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