Atlanta Public Schools expanding mental health services for students

Atlanta Public Schools students could have more options for trauma and mental health services as soon as this fall.

APS representatives said the district had been working on advanced mental health services long before the coronavirus, it just so happens that now there is a greater need.

School leaders said a student’s mental health has a ripple effect on almost every aspect of his or her life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20% of children have been diagnosed with a mental disorder such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression.

Another 7% of children aged 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with a behavior problem.

"We've seen for some children the mental health needs in this area can show up as behavioral concerns," Assistant Superintendent of student service, Dr. Katika Lovett said. "They're often misdiagnosed as behavioral concerns, which results in the child acting out, the students could be suspended, causing them to spend time away from instruction...impacting them academically."

That was an issue even before COVID-19 forced students to learn digitally from home and the pandemic cut lives short.

"They may not be able to articulate," Dr. Katika said.

"At an early age, they're losing family members. They're living in this day and age where they're losing family members to COVID and they're 5 years old and they can't understand that. That's a form of trauma," she said.

That's why starting this fall, Atlanta Public Schools are increasing the resources available to students for mental health.

Every child will be screened to determine the level of help they need, a move APS leaders said will save families time and money by providing them services that might not have been available because of access to health insurance.

The district already provides services through community partners, but they anticipate they'll need more mental health specialists as their tiered program debuts the last quarter of 2021.

These services include a leveled approach that can consist of counseling, group therapy or individualized sessions-- all with the goal of improving every aspect of a student's life.

Right now parents and teachers can refer a child for mental health care, but leaders anticipate more resources in the fall for a more targeted mental health system.

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