On one of his more challenging days, Johnathan refused to get on the school bus. 
He threw chairs and ran away from the teachers, fleeing to hide under a table at his elementary school.


He lay there, curled up and crying when his mom was called to come and pick him up. And when Shaunqueen Leatherman arrived, worried and stressed, her son was asleep on the floor in that same spot.
His mother and grandma, who works as a teaching assistant in Metro Nashville Schools, asked for help from the school and were connected with a school-based therapist.



For a year, Johnathan's behavior underwent a "dramatic change," Leatherman says. He saw Laurie Jackson, a therapist from Centerstone who worked full time at Rosebank Elementary. He learned calm-down techniques. And if he was having a particularly tough day, he had someone nearby at school who understood him well enough to help.


"It was nice having someone who knew him mentally being right there," Leatherman says. 


But this year, Johnathan changed Metro Nashville schools, and there is no longer a full-time therapist there to work with him. The 7-year-old's behavior is escalating again. He's becoming more jittery, and more wild, his mom says, leaving Leatherman — who is raising three kids on her own — to worry again about the mental wellness of her son.
"It's more difficult now because he doesn’t have that person to talk to every day," she says.
Johnathan is just one example of a significant and persistent need in Tennessee schools.
School-based therapy gives kids direct access to treatment, addressing behavior that may be disruptive or dangerous — often in the moments when a child needs it most.
But as the mental health needs of students reach unprecedented levels and fears about school and community violence escalate, experts say Tennessee schools have an inadequate number of psychological staff.
And that is a big problem.


Few districts meet recommendations

More than 265,500 kids in Tennessee ages 2 to 17 have been diagnosed with a mental health issue, according to estimates by the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Approximately 62,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 have had a major depressive episode in the past year.
And very few districts in the state meet the recommended national guidelines of having one psychologist for every 1,000 students. This year some Middle Tennessee school districts cut funding for school psychologists; others simply don't have money in their budgets to hire enough to meet the student needs.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of no more than 1,000 students per school psychologist, in general, and no more than 500 to 700 students per school psychologist when more comprehensive and preventive services are being provided.
Most Tennessee school districts do not meet these standards.
In Dickson County, only four psychologists serve 8,400 students. In Sumner County, there are 21 school psychologists for 29,331 students; each psychologist serves two or more schools depending on the size of the school.
The Basic Education Program — the formula by which Tennessee calculates required funding for school needs such as psychologists, books and teacher pay — uses a ratio of one psychologist for every 2,500.
Statewide, schools employed 540 psychological personnel during the 2016-2017 school year, an average of one for every 1,784 students, according to the Department of Education's annual statistical report.
"We’ve seen shortages for a long time," says Kathy Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists.
"Up until recently, many schools didn’t understand the importance of mental health in how it affects the school’s climate and how it interacts with safety."

Outside help for students 

School systems across Tennessee have sought to address this gap, bringing in nonprofit organizations that provide their own mental health therapists to support students and stem behaviors that could be precursors to serious mental health issues. Those therapists often are funded through grants, TennCare or by billing a family's personal insurance.
Meanwhile, new statewide requirements go into effect this school year that require school counselors to spend 80 percent of their time one on one with students instead of proctoring exams, working cafeteria shifts or doing other administrative duties.
The goal is to alleviate some of the burdens on school psychologists who struggle to serve the mental health needs of hundreds of students.
"It provides a personal protection factor for many young men and women," says Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO of STARS, a nonprofit organization addressing bullying, substance abuse and youth violence. STARS has 60 school-based therapists in seven Middle Tennessee counties.
"If nothing else, being there where young people are is probably the most important ingredient — because many don't have access to services outside those hallways."
With the increased understanding of adverse childhood experiences, including trauma or abuse, additional social media stressers stressors such as bullying and challenges in accessing mental health resources, early intervention and support for kids and teenagers are paramount.

Derick BAKAH

Derick BAKAH

Bakah Derick is a Broadcast Presenter and Multimedia specialist with focus on sharing with the rest of the world the daily happenings in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. You can contact us on +237 675460750 or debakah2004@gmail.com.

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