Indiana state senator to propose bill focused on students’ mental health

INDIANAPOLIS – As mental health professionals continue to see high demand for counseling services for both adults and children, a state senator from Indianapolis wants Indiana to take a closer look at students’ mental health.

School officials say more students are in need of counseling services, so they’re trying to be proactive in reaching kids and getting them the help they need.

“I can’t say, ‘Wow our middle schoolers are struggling more than other grade levels’ – I think it’s pretty clearly across the board K-12,” said Jennifer Dodson, district lead school counselor for Washington Township Schools.

The pandemic’s impact on mental health continues at the college level.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of anxiety,” said Denise Hayes, assistant vice provost for student affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. “Students are adjusting, readjusting to being back in-person.”

“We typically see maybe around 300 students each fall, and we’ve seen 460 at the counseling service this fall,” said Keith Magnus, director of counseling and consultation services at Butler University.

Community Health Network has also continued to see increased demand for counseling.

“We also have noticed that there’s been an increase in our need to hospitalize some youth patients and some adolescent patients,” said Kimble Richardson, licensed mental health counselor for Community Health Network. “And so we’ve had to increase our bed status to accommodate that need as well.”

State Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) plans to introduce a bill focused on students’ mental health. He wants the state to collect more information to find ways to better help students, he said.

“We need to have good data in our state, and what I’ve learned is that we really don’t have good data,” Ford said.

State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), who chairs the Senate education committee, said lawmakers cannot allocate more funding toward mental health until the state budget is rewritten in 2023. But he isn’t against the idea of gathering more information, he added.

“It’s something we have to put the structure in place for to collect and then go through a process of figuring out what is pertinent and what isn’t in the data,” Raatz said.

Meanwhile, school officials are working to help kids as much as they can. 

“I know that one of our private counseling groups, they’ve had to limit some of the referrals that we give them because they just don’t have the staffing to do that,” said Steve Bair, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Beech Grove City Schools.

“I think we need to focus on well-being as a whole and look at how are we supporting each other?” said Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life at Purdue University. “How are we building relationships? How are we connecting to the world at large?”

Richardson suggests parents routinely have conversations with their kids about mental health to see how they’re doing. 

The Be Well Indiana website was set up earlier in the pandemic to connect Hoosiers with counseling resources. 

For mental health services offered by Community Health Network, click here.

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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