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Ohio Schools, Clinicians Face Student Mental Health Crisis

Columbus City Schools has enlisted the family counseling organization Buckeye Ranch to help students dealing with depression, anxiety and other issues that coincided with social isolation over months of remote learning.

Olivia Price, a mental health specialist with Buckeye Ranch, works out of Eakin Elementary School, as part of a new partnership between Buckeye Ranch and Columbus City Schools.
(TNS) — Every day is different for Olivia Price, but it usually begins with checking in with Eakin Elementary School teachers, the principal, school counselor and most importantly — her clients.

Her clients are students at the Columbus City school on the West Side who may be dealing with issues such as having a hard time focusing, sitting in class or have been diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety.

She'll talk to them about what made them happy that day — like getting a hug from a teacher — or things that made them upset, like a disagreement with another student. Price, who has a master's degree in social work, is a quality mental health specialist.

"My work is not just working with the students, I also talk to the teachers about my clients and I talk to their families too," Price said. "It's kind of like a group of people working together to help the success of the child."

This academic year, Buckeye Ranch, a youth and family mental health counseling and treatment organization, partnered with Columbus City Schools to place clinicians such as Price in their schools. Currently, there are Buckeye employees at Eakin, West Broad Elementary, Indianola Informal K-8 and Columbus Alternative High School.

The partnership comes during a time where mental health concerns have been spiking in K-12 students in the state and across the country amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.


A recent statewide survey by Miami University's Ohio School Wellness Initiative found that 75 percent of the 106 K-12 school officials who participated in that portion of the survey reported increased mental health concerns among their students since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The concerns included moderate to severe depression, significant anxiety and social isolation among students. The study also found 60 percent of participants reported increased concerns of trauma exposure, PTSD and suicidal ideation and attempts by school children.

While these concerns existed before the pandemic began, COVID-19 and its variants have exacerbated the issues, said Kristy Brann, an assistant professor of school psychology at Miami University who is part of the initiative.

Brann added that a lot of behavioral and mental health concerns could be attributed to changes in a student's routine — not being able to interact with their peers and being physically in a classroom.

"It amplified what was already a problem," she said.

Having clinicians and mental health specialists in schools, Brann said, can reduce or eliminate problems associated with getting referrals, transportation or paying for behavioral health services.

And while Buckeye Ranch provides referral services to families who need them, the school-based program hopes to remove those barriers, said Andrea Weisberger, the organization's school-based liaison.

"Most school-based clinicians go to the school and serve the children there, because that's where children need it most," Weisberger said.


Weisberger said having clinicians like therapists and qualified mental health social workers in schools allow teachers and other school staff to focus on academics. It also takes clinicians to an environment where students need them the most.

"If a child is struggling in school, struggling with their academics and there's some kind of mental health or behavioral concern that's getting in the way of that, we come in to reduce ... and remove that barrier for them," Weisberger said.

Buckeye Ranch has clinicians working in four local school districts: Columbus, South-Western, Reynoldsburg and Westerville.

This is the first year the organization has partnered with Columbus City Schools.

Cheryl Ward is executive director of a program at Columbus City Schools which makes sure the district upholds the Ohio Department of Education's Whole Child Framework. This includes supporting students' psychological and emotional safety, academics and health.

She said the district has worked with other school-based therapy services before, but it's the first time it has had formal clinicians in their schools.

Ward said Columbus City Schools partnered with Buckeye Ranch after the organization received $1 million in grant money from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant allows clinicians to work with students who have no insurance or basic insurance that might not cover mental health services.

One of the most important parts of the CCS-Buckeye partnership is that school-based clinicians are there in real-time for the students — in the environment they are learning in, she said.

"If one of our young people who are being seen by the Ranch was having a crisis or struggle, the fact that the clinician is in the school building and can get to that young person, can walk them through what the crisis is or the situation is,"that's critical, Ward said.

Price said elementary school children are more moldable than older kids, and teaching them how to show gratitude or cope when upset can possibly help down the line if they have more serious diagnoses.

"I don't want to say it's going to hinder them for a bigger diagnosis, but at least they will know how to cope with those diagnoses as they get older," Price said.

After talking to students about what's been going on and doing therapeutic exercises, Price said she likes to plays games, such as Uno, or do coloring with the kids.

Price believes she's seen the impact therapy has had on the children, like when a student gave her a hug after she returned from vacation.

"That showed me that I was missed, like what I'm doing ... is impactful," Price said. "That definitely made my day."

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