At a time when our daily lives have changed dramatically over the last few months, the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. That is why now, more than ever, it is essential to erase the stigma around mental health, generate more awareness and remind our families of the services offered to provide support to our students.
Our district's mental health team collaborates daily with Student Services staff to work with students and their families to support students' social, emotional, and behavioral health.
Since March, our district has provided Telehealth counseling to more than 2,400 students and answered more than 720 mental health hotline calls. This hotline is still available to students and families Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m., call 813-272-4787.
To further address combating the stigma around Mental Health, our district has supplied schools with Mental Health Banner to hang visibly to encourage students to reach out to a member of their student services team if they need to talk about their feelings and concerns. Also, schools have received two PSAs to share with students and families; one focuses on students talking directly to their peers about the importance of sharing their feelings with someone they trust. The other focuses on students talking to parents about the signals parents should look out for when their child is struggling.
You can view and share these PSAs by visiting our district YouTube page (HCPSVideoChannel) or click this link https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjAJNT9F0eetIHitognRm1Q9QIER_zlML.
The voice of the community cannot be understated when addressing mental health resources and interventions. Our district has created a student and adult stakeholders' opportunity to enhance mental health awareness by formulating Mental Health Student and Community Advisory Committees. These committees will meet to discuss pertinent mental health issues and create the next steps to ensure mental health needs are being addressed in our schools for students in need.
The Student Mental Health Committee will focus on creating Awareness events at schools to lower stigma and focus on procedures and policies to improve students' opportunity to voice their concerns.
"We are working on recruitment for students from all 29 high schools to create a "Not I, But We" Teen Advocacy Group at each school. From there, we will get a rep from each school to work on the Student Advisory Committee for the district. The group will focus on changes we want to improve mental health—erase the stigma and create new school events. All schools will have an equal part in this initiative and see through the action the difference being made," said Valerie Muzyka, Sickles Senior and "Not I, But We" Teen Advisory Committee Founder.
Our students are not alone. They are encouraged to reach out to someone they trust at school. The student services team at each school is available if a student needs to share their feelings. As solutions-oriented servant leaders, the Department of Student Services provides prescriptive, on-going support designed to meet students' evolving needs. Our schools are staffed with school counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, and school social workers—each brings essential expertise to the field of education. These professionals provide various services and are available for students receiving instruction in brick and mortar settings or via remote methods such as eLearning, telehealth services, and Hillsborough Virtual School.
"As you can see, in Hillsborough County Public Schools, we have implemented several new initiatives so that we can make sure that everyone is aware of Mental Health and know that it is okay to ask for help. We have mental health clinicians that are assigned to support our schools, and we have partnered with various community agencies so that students can get more of therapeutic support if needed," said Holly Saia, General Director of Student Services.
Support for Parents and Guardians
TLC or Tender Love and Care is an excellent template for parents in general when it comes to supporting their child or children. The same acronym can be applied to parents who have a child suffering silently.
"T" stands for Talk to Your Child.
Get an estimate of their thoughts and feelings, and reassure them that community leaders, school officials, medical professionals are doing all they can to help them.
"L" Stands for Limit Your Child's Exposure to Anxiety Provoking images and information.
The TV and internet are saturated with COVID-19 news and opinions, the imagery of riots and looting, political propaganda, just to name a few. Limiting their exposure helps to stabilize them when they have poor coping skills.
"C" stands for Be Cognizant of changes in your child's demeanor.
Sometimes kids internalize stress and anxiety, and it must come out in some way—sometimes through headaches, stomachaches, sleep disturbances.
Parents can always reach out to the student services team member at school to discuss any concerns they have after speaking with their child.