TYLER, Texas (KETK) — In a time of need, our nation is experiencing a dangerous shortage of mental health professionals. Now, underserved populations in East Texas may have some luck within their school system and accessing the right type of care in the classroom.

“We’ve always had people struggling with mental health issues at one point or another. Some severe and some minor,” said David Chenault, Henderson ISD Director of Communications.

Many children and adolescents are struggling now as they experience poor mental and emotional health. Some cases are being linked to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and gun violence, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Experts say that a few behavioral red flags to look for in students are:

  • Isolated students if they were hypersocial before
  • Behaviors/change in behavior (tantrums, outbursts at inappropriate times, becoming disrespectful)
  • Excessive absences
  • Falling grades

“We all go through periods of heightened stress, periods of adjustment with families and kids, said Dr. Erin West, Professor of Counseling Services. “Existing as a human being can be really hard sometimes. I think a lot of times if people had reached out for help earlier, they would kind of get the support and maybe learn some of those skills they need so that larger issues didn’t happen later on.”

To tackle these concerns, 2022’s Bipartisan Communities Act passed over $1.3 million to support school-based mental health services for students.

“The purpose of that money, or what that is going to be used for, is kind of in a couple of different areas. The first focus is to increase mental health services that are being provided in schools,” West said.

Tyler, Winona and Brownsboro school districts are partnering with UT Tyler and providing mental health professionals in East Texas schools.

“We will be able to increase the number of interns that we put from our program into their schools who can directly provide services to their students. Those interns will also get paid for the work that they are doing, which is great. That will support our graduate students here,” West said.

Studies show that school-based mental health initiatives decrease truancy rates and improve discipline and high school graduation rates.

School-based services in other districts, like Henderson ISD, can also reduce access barriers for underserved populations.

“One of the new things that we are doing here is, we have a program called Care Solace. Basically, Care Solace acts as a liaison between families and mental healthcare providers. What we do, our counselors will identify that a student has a mental health need that exceeds what we can provide within a school day,” said Wakita Lamb, Federal Programs and Counseling Services Coordinator for Henderson ISD.

Care Solace will then put the family in touch with the right medical provider.

“We do have different resources within the community. We also have some resources in Longview that are income based. A lot of those different entities do provide mental health care at no cost or very low cost,” Lamb said.

This provides families in need with the right tools for a healthier and happier future.

“I’ve never lived anywhere where we had so many people who have a heart for helping kids and making sure that everyone is okay. Have several resources in the community to help those in need like being homeless, etc.,” Lamb said.

Henderson ISD also has mental health resources available for teachers that are in need. Staff members have access to 24-hour telemedicine that is funded by the district.

“If we can provide a resource for our teachers and our staff and their immediate family to address those mental health concerns that they may have, then they will be able to be the best they can be for their students,” said Amanda Wallace, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Policies for Henderson ISD.

This is part two of a five-part special report on the subject of mental health. Use the links below to catch up on the series: