SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Local leaders are addressing mental health in Sumner County starting with its youngest residents.

The Sumner County Health Committee conducted a community health assessment last year with about 400 residents. One of the major health concerns amongst respondents was increasing awareness and access to mental health resources.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this year found the number of high school female students seriously considering suicide rose from 24% in 2019 to 30% in 2021.

“It’s almost like a hidden epidemic that’s happening,” said Sumner Prevention Coalition Project Coordinator Beth Gray. “People are suffering but aren’t able to talk about it. And what we are trying to do is have children talk about their feelings, emotions, and become comfortable with them. So they feel the need that they can reach out to someone if they need it.”

One way the committee is addressing the issue is by providing every classroom in Sumner County with a “calming kit.” The kits have items that students can use to help regulate their emotions while in the classroom. There are a few schools in Sumner County that utilize calming kits in their classrooms and counselors say they make a difference.

“We’ve had these about five years,” said Benny Bills Elementary School Counselor Emily Anderson. “I see the kids being able to identify, ‘Hey, I need a break.’ Or just going over and grabbing something and maybe even going back to their seat. It’s a way for them to regulate their emotions, that they’re also working in class, or maybe they’re still working in a group with a partner. So they’re not making different choices, like shutting down or refusing to do work.”

School officials say these not only help the student who’s experiencing challenging emotions, it benefits the whole classroom.

“It definitely helps maximize instructional time for the teachers,” said Benny Bills Elementary School Counselor Charlsea Brantley. “The intention is to maximize instructional time so that you’re not being disrupted throughout the day, and to teach them those appropriate skills.”

The health committee is in the process of completing a first-year goal of providing eight pilot elementary schools in Sumner County with a calming kit and training videos. The second-year goal is to provide the remaining 21 elementary schools with calming kits in 2024.

“Even starting in kindergarten, we want to do as much preventative [work] as we can. So the more we can educate the kids on their bodies, recognizing how they feel using these tools, the better prepared they are for later,” said Anderson. “[The] earlier, the better, honestly, because that can help prevent these big behaviors that we’re seeing now.”

Several entities have helped fund the calming kits so far but the committee needs financial help to get the kits into more classrooms. Donors can make checks payable to Sumner County Health Committee and write “Calming Kits” in the memo line. Checks can then be mailed to 1005 Union School Road, Gallatin, TN 37066. The deadline to submit is Nov. 1.