Mental health survey allows opportunity for student help


Ann Fitzmaurice

While each RBHS student is assigned to a guidance counselor, it still can be hard to reach out to those who don’t take the initiative to discuss how they’re feeling with an adult who can help.
For this reason, Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition (BCSMHC) issued a mental health survey and made it mandatory for Boone County students to take in order to find those who need help but don’t try to get it, said director of BCSMHC LouAnnTanner-Jones.
In September of the 2016-2017 school year, BCSMHC issued a survey to Boone County students to address potential emotional issues. The data collected from the survey will be used to drive interventions to meet the needs of students in order to make a positive difference.
These outreaches with good intentions, however, fell silent to many at the school, with students either not answering the questions seriously or not taking the survey at all. Outreach guidance counselor Lesley Thalhuber is saddened by the low level of seriousness students give but not totally surprised.
“These student checklists are truly designed to help us, as a school, best meet student needs,” Thalhuber said. “They aren’t meant to be intrusive or get anyone in trouble. I hope that as students learn more about the purpose, they might be willing to take it more seriously.”
Tanner-Jones, understands some students will not answer the questions truthfully but notices consistency across the county of more students answering truthfully than not.
“We can’t make kids answer honestly, but we try to reduce fear around responding in a way truly that reflects how they feel,” Tanner-Jones said. “We hope students can come to understand that we do the checklist to help them and we honor the fact that they have truthfully told us what they are concerned about. When kids are honest and answer truthfully we can make help available sooner.”
As for the students, sophomore Kaylee Sands believes the survey was unnecessary as students could answer the questions in a certain way in order to bypass interference with their lives.
“I don’t think people were necessarily truthful on the survey,” Sands said. “If someone really wanted to go to the counselor, it’s fine, I just think the real problem is it’s not doing anything good for the majority.”
In the case of students answering truthfully, Sands believes the survey could be a genuine help. With the emotional questions being answered at school, however, she thinks students are afraid of answering truthfully as their peers might find out.
To address this worry, Dr. Tim Baker, assistant superintendent, said the survey is not to out anyone on their mental health, but to better connect social services to the students if needed. The checklist is meant to see where RBHS is as a school in terms of its strengths and weaknesses as a community.
“We could never force our services on anyone who didn’t want them,” Baker said. “So we believe [the survey] is a safe way to let us know how [students] are doing at home and at school.”
Thalhuber also confronts the worry of personal information leaking, expressing that all counselors operate with a code of confidentiality and urges students to give them a chance.
“Things that are said in our offices will remain confidential unless a student is a danger to themselves or others or report abuse [or] neglect,” Thalhuber said. “Here at RBHS, we have a team of amazing counselors who are wise and caring.”
As for the students that have successfully taken the survey and gotten the help they needed, Baker said the most valuable outcome was being able to identify students that need help that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
“In such a large school, it can be challenging to know the needs and issues of every student,” Baker said. “This has, at least in part, helped us bridge that gap.”
The BCSMHC plans to continue the survey in the future, and RBHS counselors have had one-on-one sessions that have been successful with students who seemed at risk. Although some students don’t take it seriously, for those who do it’s made an important change in their lives.
“Connections have been made and support has been provided that could have otherwise never happened. There is a group of students that have been suffering silently without any external evidence,” Thalhuber said. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to find some of those students and let them know that there is hope.”
What do you think about the survey? Did you take it seriously? Comment below!