School-based mental health centers making a difference

Lauren Ellis, family nurse practitioner is pictured with Kim Bailey, medical assistant.

When a St. Charles Parish student started having weekly panic attacks and daily anxiety due to social interactions and past trauma, she didn’t have to venture far to get the help she needed.

That student met with therapist Sharell Warren-Veal, who works for Access Health Louisiana’s Albert Cammon Wellness Center, which serves both St. Rose Elementary and Albert Common Middle School.

“That student has now completed therapy and is excelling in high school,” Warren-Veal said. 

Warren-Veal, who has worked as a therapist at both schools for a little over a year, said most of the students the wellness center serves have limited access to healthcare, let alone behavioral healthcare.

Sharell Warren-Veal

“A lot of families need help locating providers during a feasible time. This means the student would miss school, and the parent would typically have to miss work,” she said. “The services are provided during the student enrichment time and don’t pose a scheduling concern for the family.”

Warren-Veal provides both individual and group counseling to students.

“It is fantastic when you can make a difference in a student’s life,” she said. “The most minor things, like a weekly check-in, change the dynamics. The students know you genuinely care for them.”

Jerry Smith, who serves as Executive Director of Child Welfare and Attendance and Student Services for St. Charles Parish Public Schools, said it’s highly critical for the district to have the behavioral health counseling services that are provided by Access Health.

“This partnership supports our unwavering commitment to supporting our students’ mental health and social-emotional wellness needs and is directly aligned with our St. Charles Parish Public Schools mission of developing empathetic, involved, productive, and responsible citizens,” she said.

She said the district has “definitely” seen positive outcomes for the students who are receiving such services.

“It can be very challenging for parents to secure behavioral health appointments after school and/or after work hours, which oftentimes results in missed appointments and/or school absences,” she said. “Our partnership with Access Health Louisiana affords our students timely access to critical behavioral health support on their school campuses and enables them to receive therapy for a variety of behavioral health needs, including trauma, anxiety, depression and other stressors in an expedited manner.”

After abrupt closures of schools due to the pandemic, Smith said the district realized that students not only suffered academic learning loss, but also suffered social-emotional loss  (SEL) as well. To help identify students who may be experiencing trauma and other adverse childhood experiences, the district launched universal screening for behavioral health needs in the fall of the 2020-21 school year.

“The screener results are heat-mapped in a format that allows us to identify students who endorsed ‘high SEL needs’ in their responses to the screener,” Smith said. “Our partnership with Access Health has been an integral support part of the post-screening triage process and enables students to receive therapy for a variety of behavioral needs, including trauma, anxiety, depression and other stressors in an expedited manner.”