Special Reports

School counselors help parents, students with mental health issues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) - Moodiness, depression and a lack of interest. For parents it might be difficult to tell the difference between typical teenage angst and a more serious problem. 

"The parents... sometimes they don't know where to turn," said Debra Martin, Professional School Counselor at Mt. Juliet Middle School

Some parents might not realize the help they need is in their child's school.

"Lots of times parents don't know where to go to get mental health for their children, and so we try to educate as much as we can," said Cindy Groll a social worker for Metro-Nashville Public Schools

Groll is a social worker at Statford Stem Magnet High School.  

"It could be helping them get scholarship for college or talking to them about peer issues," said Groll, as she walked the hallways of Stratford Stem Magnet High School. "They see us roaming the hallways, so they kind of see us as somebody who can help them versus don't go talk to that person, you know, you're going to be ostracized."  

Students in need of help can find discretion and understanding from Groll. 

"Our primary role in the schools is counseling," said Groll.  

She said she spends most of her day talking with students about issues they're facing, from problems with school work to more serious mental health concerns.  

"I would say the main diagnosis that you would see with kids and teens would be the anxiety, the depression, ADHD, we see kids on the autism spectrum disorder, we see children who have eating disorders, mood disorders." 

Issues, Groll said, usually come with warning signs that parents should notice and she can help with.  

"The basic concerns would be your child is starting to fail, they're not wanting to go to school, there may be some truancy issues, skipping classes, those would be kind of your big red flags," explained Groll.  

Other signs are when, "They don't have any friends, they are engaging in maybe some destructive behavior, arguing, getting in trouble a lot." 

"Those might be some really obvious signs that they need to prod a little to see what's going on." 

Part of the prodding might mean reaching out for help. Every Metro-Nashville Public School has a social worker like Groll, and they're there to help the students and parents.  

"Parents may call and just ask for consultation with a school counselor, the school social worker to call and just say, 'You know, is this a problem or can you give me some ideas on what to do?'" 

There aren't licensed mental health professionals in most Wilson County Schools, but counselors like Debra Martin offer guidance for students and is a resource for parents.  

"We can certainly provide them with information we're seeing at school that they're not aware of at home," said Martin, a guidance counselor at Mt. Juliet Middle School

She recognizes, "It is a fine line to know what is adolescent behavior, typical versus, 'Wow, this is something I really need to pay attention to.'" 

Martin said she counsels children on a daily basis and said sometimes, just the need, "someone safe to talk to that's nonjudgmental." Other times, it's more serious. 

"Some self-harm and suicidal ideation, just not wanting to, in their words, live anymore. It could be an underlying factor that's causing them to think that. there could be more to the story, and there usually is, on where those feelings are originating. Also, just a feeling of identification, where do they belong in the social ladder as an adolescent. Where do they fit in? How do they fit in? I think those are some conflicting pieces of the puzzle that they're trying to put together right now," said Martin. 

When a problem escalates to those levels, Martin said it's Wilson County Schools procedure to alert the child's parents and then Youth Villages, which has a mobile crisis unit. There were more than 250 calls for that help in 2017. 

Both Martin and Groll stress that it's important for parents to pay attention to their child's behavior and not hesitate to reach out for help.  

Click here for more warning signs for mental health problems in children.  


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