Schools and Communities Changing Lives
Making Teen Mental Health a Priority: Schools and Communities Saving Lives
For school psychologist Jamie Ibarra, a screening questionnaire offers powerful leverage when seeking referrals for students in need
At least three times a week, Jaime Ibarra, school psychologist with the Northampton County, Virginia school district gets a call from a fellow counselor or teacher concerned that a student may be suicidal. She’s making worrying comments; his demeanor is troubling. Can he talk to the student to find out what might be going on?
When Ibarra meets with teens, he typically combines a thoughtful dialogue with a call to the parents for consent to offer a mental health screening. They almost always agree.
“Most of the teens will tell you they don’t have a plan,” he said. “But this is a stressful environment. There is a lot of poverty around here and not a lot of jobs. Life for these kids and their families can be difficult.”
Located along the Chesapeake Bay, Northampton County is on the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The peninsula community is pristine and beautiful, but also isolated, with pockets of economic distress. The district includes 1,800 students with two elementary schools and one high school for grades seven through 12. He is the district psychologist, working with four counselors.
Even when suicidality is not the immediate issue, screening gives Ibarra important information on depression, anxiety and other possible mental health disorders. It also gives him leverage in dealing with the region’s scant resources, long wait times, and teens in need of immediate referral. Care is most often provided through the state-funded Eastern Shore Community Services Board. Services are offered on a sliding scale, but wait times can be as long as two months. “Some students can’t wait that long,” he said. “Screening gives me something else to take to the community services board. It supports what I am saying about the teen.”
While he looks forward to securing future funding to introduce universal screening in the ninth grade, TeenScreen’s free resources help him support adolescent mental health through challenging times.
“You can make great use of the screening resources, even if you don’t have the funding you need for a more comprehensive program,” he said. “I’ve made it part of my tool kit.”