Thrive by IU Health

March 19, 2021

Teens in Orange County high schools to benefit from counseling

Teens in Orange County high schools to benefit from counseling

The timing couldn’t have been worse: Even as Indiana high school students report high levels of hopelessness and suicide ranks as a leading cause of death for Hoosier teens, COVID-19 forced an Orange County school-based behavioral health program to suspend operations.

But now, thanks to a $47,920 grant from the IU Health Foundation, those services are returning for students at Orleans Jr./Sr. High School, and will be replicated at another Orange County school.

Like rural areas throughout Indiana, Orange County offers limited mental health treatment options. At the same time, teens across America face more challenging stressors than ever: increased school shootings, social media pressure, COVID-19 and, in many cases, parents who are incarcerated or absent.

Orange County teens are glad to have the program back in action. As soon as students heard it had resumed, several showed up at the door of School Counselor Kristin Bye.

“Kids reached out to me themselves, which is really great,” said Bye. “So many won’t get the help they need unless they get it here.”

Once parents and guardians give permission, students who request services are connected with a clinician from the Riley Children’s Health and Southern Indiana Physicians Pediatric and Behavioral Health team. The teens then meet one-on-one with a counselor for virtual appointments during appropriate class times, ensuring they aren’t pulled from classes where they’re struggling. The sessions focus on improving students’ mental, social and emotional well-being so that they thrive in school, as well as teaching them coping skills that last into the future.

“Partnering with the school eliminates barriers,” said Lisa Greathouse, IU Health manager of Coordinated School Health. “It’s a place that feels familiar and safe for students. There’s no need for transportation. It allows us to get to more students who need help.”

School interventions are needed now more than ever. Thirty-three percent of Indiana high school students report feeling sad or hopeless in the last year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for Hoosiers ages 14-39, with rates significantly higher for 15 to 24 year olds.

“As educators, we hope our students show up ready to learn, but for many kids, that’s not the case,” said Superintendent of Orleans Community Schools Jimmy Ellis. “We’re grateful to be able to partner with IU Health to help improve the learning environment for our students.”

Greathouse says behavioral healthcare onsite in schools is just one piece of IU Health’s Coordinated School Health program. In collaboration with THRIVE, a local group working with rural schools to address troubling youth health statistics, Greathouse helps identify resources and builds collaborations for all schools in the South Central region using the Whole Child Approach. This process is an effort to transition from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes long-term development and success for all children.

“We’re ultimately working to improve overall health in the communities we serve through these efforts,” said Greathouse.

If you would like to financially support programs that help expand behavioral health services to those in need, click here. Once directed to the site, select “Other.” Then, under “Please Direct My Gift To,” type “Behavioral Health.”

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