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Jones: Mental health awareness is necessary in schools
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9 months … 36 weeks … 252 days … 1,764 hours.  

This is the amount of time students spend in a school setting each year, overlooking additional time spent after school completing homework, projects and participating in extracurricular activities.  

Seeing these numbers, Gov. Nathan Deal’s focus on including mental health services inside the environment young Georgians spend the most time makes sense. In 2015, the APEX Project was announced by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities along with the Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at Georgia State University as a grant funded program to begin placing mental health services inside Georgia schools.  

The program’s goals are detection, access, and coordination.  Detection is accomplished by teachers, school counselors, and other school staff noticing when a student is struggling in the educational environment and referring them to the School Based Mental Health Clinician.  

The School Based Mental Health Clinician provides the student with access to mental health services within the school environment.  The clinician then coordinates with Georgia’s community mental health providers and local schools in district about sustaining the program once the grant has ended.  

The APEX project helps to minimize the stigma placed on mental health.  It opens the doors to allow everyone to gain more knowledge about the effects of mental health and the importance of maintaining a healthy mental state.  Since inception the program has expanded to more than 29 mental health agencies.    

The School Based Mental Health Clinician’s primary role is to provide students with a higher level of clinical intervention than they would be receiving from their School Counselor.  The services provided within the school include individual counseling, group counseling, advocating for clients and family within school, finding resources for clients and family in community, and working to increase awareness about mental health within the school system as well as the importance of early detection.  A referral from the student’s School Counselor to the School Based Mental Health Clinician is all that is needed for a student to begin receiving services through the APEX Project.  

School counselors are able to receive referrals from teachers, other school staff, and parents.  There is no cost out-of-pocket to the project participants, which makes this service accessible to anyone in need.  In its duration this project has allowed students who would normally not have resources (time, transportation, money etc.) to receive mental health services while in school.  School Based Mental Health Clinicians have been utilized in IEP/504/RTI meetings, on Positive Behavior Intervention Strategy committees, Mental Health First Aid trainings, and various individual school initiatives.  The clinician is an integral part to ensuring students are receiving as many resources as possible to help them be successful in school.  Research has shown schools with the APEX Project have seen an increase in attendance, academic support, and school climate; as well as a decrease in discipline referrals, failed courses, and classroom disruptions.  

The project is currently placed in seven schools within Newton County (Alcovy High, Indian Creek Middle, Liberty Middle, Clements Middle, Porterdale Elementary, Middle Ridge Elementary, and Fairview Elementary) and is looking to expand.  

Danielle Jones is a School Based Mental health clinician working inside Alcovy High School.  She has been a mental health clinician for three years; and loves working with the teenage population.  Ms. Jones has numerous years of experience working with teens and aiding them in improving their mental health through counseling, volunteering, and mentoring.  Danielle is passionate about the work APEX project is able to provide the students in her school.  She is able to see daily the impact this project is making on the lives of each student receiving the services whether directly or indirectly.  She is also an Associate Professional Counselor currently employed with Viewpoint Health.