As a new school year gets underway, more New Hampshire high schools are looking for ways to help students dealing with mental health issues.
Exeter High School is introducing new mental health services this year, in response to a rise in students dealing with issues such as depression and anxiety.
Jim Tremblay, principal of Exeter High School, joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the program.
When did you realize this was something the school needed to do?
Last year, we had some discussions here at Exeter High School and something we were noticing is that there certainly is a rise in the anxiety students are feeling. We felt if we could implement a program that addressed both the academic needs as well as some of the mental health needs of our students that we could keep more of our students here in our school and better set them up for success toward graduation.
When you say there’s a rise in the rate of these issues, is this a case where in the past it’s gone underreported?
I don’t know if it’s gone underreported, but I think that today we’re a much more educated society, ranging from students to parents to educators. And we’re much more aware of the different issues that impact a student’s education. It used to be that when a student would come to school, we’d kind of set aside the other things that were impacting them in life and school was about teaching. Schools have become much more like social welfare agencies. We can’t just address academics for students. We need to help out with those other factors that impact their life.
What are some of the issues that you’re seeing that are causing some of these problems?
Certainly, there’s a lot of pressure on today’s youth to succeed. Pressure from home, pressure from school, pressure from colleges; some of those pressures we can help control and others we can’t. We don’t know what the situation is beyond these walls for some of our students. We are certainly seeing students with increased awareness about their own anxiety. It could be stresses about their academics, it could be about social or peer relationships that they have. We’re trying to make sure that we don’t just ignore that anxiety or some of the resulting depression that can happen or other symptoms that we see and make sure that we’re helping them find ways to cope with it.
Can you talk about how the programs work and what types of services will be available?
We’ve developed this program called SOAR (Success, Opportunity And Readiness) and we’ve hired some professionals for it, one of them being an academic case manager that will help them with their academics in their regular classes, as well as provide academic supports for them in an environment we’ve set aside in this building.
We’ve also hired a mental health clinician to help give counseling, both in group counseling forms for these students, as well as individual counseling on a regular basis. We want to help them develop coping strategies and help them become proactive in their own struggles so they can prevent themselves from being in situations where they might feel that anxiety or depression and then impact the rest of their day. This year, we’re targeting between 12-15 students to be involved with it, but we certainly can expand that.
How much communication do you see happening between your staff and parents and the student’s doctor? I imagine some of these students may also be getting treatment outside of the school.
They could be in some situations, and communication is actually one of the key facets of this program. Our mental health clinician Brianne Lewis has already has had numerous communications with some of these students’ parents and other stakeholders in their life to have a wrap-around approach. This means we can make sure the services and the environment these students are in outside of school, that we’re supporting in similar ways that the other professionals in their life might be recommending. I definitely see communication on a weekly basis. It’s been great so far. We’ve had the students who are going to be involved in this program already come in for early orientation and meet with their folks. We’ve already found ways to break down those barriers between school and home.