About 4 million children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from some form of mental illness, but only 20 percent are identified and receive services.
Federal health officials have been encouraging schools to screen for mental health problems for about a decade, but it’s still not a requirement.
Mental health officials in the La Crosse area believe early detection and intervention is the best way to treat mental health problems among students, but they are finding little help in figuring out the best way to do it.
With no set guidelines to follow or requirements to adhere to, the La Crosse School District is working with partners in the community to provide a variety of programs for the students.
Regina Siegel, the director of pupil services and learning support for the La Crosse School District said tackling the issue of mental health in schools is not easy.
“We are seeing more and more concerns that are coming to fruition at the elementary level, so we are trying to intervene, and get services in place young and younger for children,” said Siegel.
However, a lack of guidance on a national level doesn’t bother Siegel because the local community always seems to find a way to help out.
“In La Crosse we are very fortunate because we have a lot of partners,” said Siegel.
Sarah Johnson, a mental health therapist with Gundersen Health Systems, said it is a mutual understanding.
“We're partnering with the school district to have a mental health liaison working with different schools to be able to help the schools bridge the gaps,” said Johnson.
"So a principal or a social worker can call or email, and say that they are having a particular situation and that person will be able to help them through the steps to work with that family or the child,” said Siegel.
Johnson said it doesn’t matter what vehicle is used to identify kid’s needs.
“The earlier we catch something such as depression or anxiety, the easier it is to treat and the less likely it is to have a greater impact on their life,” said Johnson.
What matters most is that they are receiving the help they deserve.
"We can get those services and intervene at an early age so that when they are older they already have the services in place,” said Siegel.
It is something that everyone can agree on.
"In this community there is great recognition that our kids need our help and there are a lot of efforts to do that,” said Johnson.
The La Crosse School District has many different programs in place to help diagnose and treat students with a mental health problem. If the district cannot offer the help a certain student needs, they will help the parents find an appropriate resource within the community.
If you have any questions regarding mental health programs offered in the La Crosse School District, you can give them a call at 608-789-7628.