More kids referred to free mental health services

Suicide prevention, 'asset' promotion also offered to help teens' well-being

This school year has seen a near doubling over last year of students being referred to free mental health services, according to the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Since school began in August, more than 60 students have been recommended by school counselors for treatment under a program offering a minimum of three free sessions with local mental health providers, according to the district's Coordinator of Student Services Amy Drolette. In 2009-10, 35 students were referred under the program.

Those numbers do not include students referred to the Health Care Alliance for Adolescent Depression (HEARD), a health-care-provider group that formed to offer free services following five public suicides of Gunn High School students in 2009 and 2010. Statistics and trends on the number of students served by the HEARD Alliance were not immediately available.

Referrals to the free services are made for problems such as anxiety and depression, Drolette said. Referred students were fairly evenly distributed throughout the K-12 age groups, she said.

She attributed the increase in referrals to confidence among counselors that ongoing funds will be available for the program and that -- at a family's discretion -- information would "circle back" so school counselors would know that a student is getting help.

The service is "strictly confidential," she said. "Once we make the referral, the families have the opportunity to contact the agency or provider.

"The hope is that as we support them with the mental health piece, they're healthier individuals and able to be more successful in the day-to-day school setting."

Drolette is in the midst of applying for a $250,000, 18-month grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools to help fund the program. Earlier this year, the district received a $50,000 grant from that agency.

Though it has existed for seven or eight years, the free mental health referral program gained a higher profile last year following the five student deaths.

It is one of several mental-health-related commitments made by the district to Palo Alto Project Safety Net, a community-wide coalition formed in response to the suicides.

Other mental health-related commitments include suicide-prevention training of teachers and staff members at all middle schools and high schools.

The first trainings in a method called QPR, which stands for "question, persuade and refer," took place Oct. 13 at Gunn High School and Terman Middle School.

In a session lasting one to three hours, people are taught "how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone for help," according to the group's website.

Stanford University psychologist Alejandro Martinez, who has trained hundreds of Stanford students and staff members in the QPR protocol, led the training session at Gunn.

The district's farthest-reaching mental health commitment this year is to a system known as the Developmental Assets, encouraging "positive relationships, opportunities, values and skills that young people need to grow up caring and responsible," according to local promoter, the nonprofit Project Cornerstone of San Jose.

A high percentage of all Palo Alto's high school students, as well as students in grades five and seven, took a baseline "Developmental Assets Survey" in October. Students answered questions about their relationships with their families and schools, and other questions aligned with the 41 identified "assets," such as "positive family communication" and "positive peer influence."

Results of the baseline surveys will be available in February or March, Drolette said.

Parents had to give permission for their students to take the survey, which does not identify results by individual student, Drolette said. Elementary school participation rates exceeded 90 percent; middle schools 85 percent and high schools 75 percent, she said.

Drolette, a former high school history teacher and counselor, joined the Palo Alto school district in August from Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, a high-achieving school ranked 36th in the U.S. News & World Report's 2009 list of America's Best High Schools.

"It's quite an academically driven school but we brought on (the Stanford University-based) Challenge Success program to support our students in terms of the stress factors and ability to learn resilience," Drolette said.

"By nature, when you're talking about high-achieving schools, Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are often part of the discussion, and I was quite familiar with the sites here before I came on board," she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 5, 2010 at 11:12 am

Another excellent informative and relevant article from the desk of Chris Kenrick. Thank you again Chris for keeping up with the youth of this city. I think the statistic (double the number of referrals) reflects a shift in our priorities, rather than an increase in need. I think kids always have a need, it's out there, but it has not been prioritized. Once you look in the dusty corner, guess what you find, dust! So I love that this city is shining the spotlight on the emotional well being of our children. And thank you to the Weekly for reporting it, and making it one of your priorities.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 5, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Yes, the need has always been there. I remember last year I asked for help for my thirteen years old son for, and they say "NO" because it does not interfere with learning. He was so worried about things that he could not focus at school and started to think about what was bothering him and even though he was at school, it did seem like he was there, but they still said "if it does not interfere with school, it is not our problem" I found myself so frustrated because my child needed help and could not get it.

Like this comment
Posted by Helga
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 6, 2010 at 6:39 am

Next time they say your kid doesn't need help of any kind because (they say) the student's grades are OK, "all kids" go thru phases like this, or the kid just needs to (stop doing X and start doing Y β€” like stop being spacey, work harder, ask the teacher for help, or otherwise push it back on a kid who doesn't know to stop being spacey, is already working harder than it appears, doesn't feel comfortable exposing his ignorance to a teacher, etc. β€” call Parents Helping Parents.

Like this comment
Posted by student
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Ted Alper Ph.D.
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2011 at 7:08 am

I would like to recommend the Morrissey Compton Educational Center for possible referrals for children who are having problems with school in general and depression in specific. They are a non-profit center that has been in Palo Alto for over 25 years and there are a number of child psychotherapists that work there. There is a sliding scale for those who need assistance and assessment, tutoring and therapy are available.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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