News & Press
Community Wellness: McDiarmid is ‘taking our front door to the schools’
By Emily Betz, MPA, LMSW, QIDP
Director of Program and Services, Ionia County Community Mental Health
Posted Aug. 28, 2015 at 10:46 PM
Updated Aug 28, 2015 at 10:47 PM
When school bells ring out this fall, a new face from Ionia County Community Mental Health will engage with students and staff in elementary, middle and high schools across Ionia County.
Sarah McDiarmid, who has had a variety of roles at ICCMH over the past 17 years, will serve as our new school-based outreach worker. Although this is a new job for Sarah, the position was created a number of years ago so that Community Mental Health could better serve the schools, children and families across the county.
Sarah will establish a regular schedule of rotation through every school. Her primary responsibility will be to take our front door to the schools – to increase access to mental health services for anyone in the school who may have a need. She’ll visit the schools, get to know the teachers, the principal, counselors and front office staff (who may know the students best), and get referrals from them. She will provide mental health screening (at the invitation of the school), and then connect students and families with our services or with other services and resources in the community.
She also will respond to crises, such as suicide or any circumstances that may be beyond the scope of school counselors, working with the student and the family, if they are willing to seek services, to find the best services for them. And because referrals to Sarah will be through the school, and meetings will be at school at a time that is convenient for everyone, the program will help reduce a barrier to accessing services: stigma.
Last year ICCMH received around 80 referrals from schools countywide, primarily from Belding and Ionia schools. Our goal this year is 120 referrals – an ambitious 50 percent increase. Next year our goal will be higher still, as we want to continually improve access to mental health services to school-age children and their families. There’s a good reason for this.
We know that, with any mental health issue, emotional disturbance or developmental disability, early intervention is key to long-term progress and has a profound impact on preventing adult mental illness. As soon as a concern arises, we want to be there. We also know that family and emotional issues don’t discriminate by age, so it is important that we reach the entire span of childhood, from the beginning of elementary school to high school graduation.
Another reason why it is important for Sarah to visit all three levels of school is that, once children start first grade, their classmates become the second of their two primary influences (the other being family). The older they get, the more of a role peers play in their lives, so intervening at school age is particularly important.
It may surprise some people to learn that depression and suicidal thinking is a huge issue across student age groups. Sarah just completed certification as a trainer for Mental Health First Aid for Adolescents, a national program that teaches community members skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use with a focus on teens. We hope that she will be able to train teachers and counselors in Mental Health First Aid.
Because there is a link between suicide and bullying, Sarah also will be involved in the issue of bullying, doing education in the schools, working with the child being bullied, perhaps setting them up with a support group or therapist, or advocating for them within the school system itself.
With an increase in cyber-bullying – the use of social media to bully – kids who are being bullied can’t get away from it, and this too often leads to desperation. A 2008 study in “Adolescent Medical Health Journal” indicated that in one year, 19 percent of high school students had serious suicidal ideations, and 15 percent had made a specific plan for suicide. With almost 1 in 5 students contemplating suicide, it is vital that we have access to them and provide mental health help when they are thinking about it.
Another area Sarah will focus on is working with individuals and families in the special education system, reaching out to them and showing them what our services can do, or helping them get through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and explaining the services we may be able to provide to them. She may also work with parents to connect them with classes and groups like “Love and Logic” or Nurturing Parents, or linking them and their teens with the Teen DBT Group (dialectical behavior therapy).
Students also may talk to Sarah if they have concerns about a family member’s mental health. If needed services are not with us, we will walk them to where they want to be and help them get what they need.
The school-based outreach program is an example of the ICCMH Board’s commitment to taking the front door of Ionia County Community Mental Health to the community. You may come here and not need our services, but you didn’t come to wrong place. We’ll help you find the right door to the right place, with the right services for you.
To reach Sarah, to learn more about the school-based outreach program or to make a referral, call 616-527-1790. If you have a mental health emergency, call 911 or our 24/7 crisis line at 888-527-1790. To learn more about ICCMH and our services, visit www.ioniacmhs.org.