South Lane Mental Health reports to SLSD

South Lane Mental Health may be in the middle of a leadership change but it's business as usual for the staff which includes having a presence in South Lane schools. 

South Lane Mental Health’s Valeria Clarke presented to the South Lane School Board on Monday, June 5 to detail the organization’s vast involvement in all but one school in the district. 

“We’re not in Child’s Way but we have one or more counselors in every other school,” Clarke said. 

South Lane Mental Health was started in 1988 by a local group of concerned citizens hoping to respond to the community’s growing mental health issues. It currently serves approximately 1,500 people per year offering counseling for a host of mental health related circumstances. 

“We are putting in 99 hours per week in the school’s,” Clarke told the board. “I was surprised too when I did the math but we are there 99 hours a week on average.”

Counselors staff the high school, middle school and elementary schools throughout South Lane School District and have seen the fruits of their labor. 

“I’m going to tell a story,” Clarke said. “We got a call from the principal at the high school.” Through staff and students, the high school administration had become aware of a student’s plan to harm themselves. Through counseling from South Lane Mental Health staff on the premises and follow-up aid, they were able to find a solution. “He’s changed his plan,” Clarke said. “Having the resource on campus really is making a difference.”

According to the American Psychological Association, one-third of college students in the U.S. have had trouble focusing over the last 12 months due to depression and anxiety. Of those who seek mental health help, 30 percent have seriously considered suicide. South Lane Mental Health reaches these students before they get to college but cohort of more than 20 federal agencies-notes children ages 6 through 17 also have staggering percentages of mental health needs. According to the data, 21 percent of low-income students between 6 and 17 years of age may be dealing with a mental health issue. Seventeen percent have experienced a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder that requires outside help and counseling. Children in the foster care system and juvenile justice system were more likely to experience a mental health episode and require the help of a mental health professional. 

South Lane has also formed a partnership with the school district to offer parenting programs through Peggy’s Primary Connection. Parents are brought through a 10-week course that aims to help couples better connect with their young children to form a bond that will last through the sometimes turbulent teenage years. 

“You can see parents come in, you’ll have a father come in and you can tell he’s there because his wife is making him,” Clarke said. “But you’ll see as he takes what he’s learned home and practices it, he can see it’s working and he now has a different relationship with his child. It gives me the chills.” 

Currently, South Lane Mental Health serves 135 children throughout the district with counselors and skills trainers who are called on to help children who would otherwise struggle with integration. 

“Some kids that are high needs also get someone assigned to them to help them learn how to be in the community and give them the tools they need to be out in the community,” Clarke said. 

Services offered by South Lane Mental Health come free of charge to the school district. Currently, the organization is transitioning its leadership position after executive director Tom Wheeler announced his retirement that will become effective next year. 

“We’re hoping to increase services,” Clarke said. “But this all started with one counselor in one school.”