As Jackson Metro-area schools are set to resume in the coming weeks, mental health experts say mental health is vital to students’ wellbeing.
According to Thrivework, a mental health organization located in Hattiesburg that specializes in providing clinical mental health assistance, educational institutions play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing students’ mental health concerns before and during the academic school year.
Ranesha Especto is a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks specializing in anxiety, addiction, depression and bipolar disorder (military and veterans) as well as couples and marriage counseling, individual counseling and family counseling for people ages 5 and over.
Especto said that while schools play an important role in helping recognize mental health issues among students, parents also should be aware of potential problems.
“One of the things parents should look for is a change in attitude in their child before the start of school,” Especto said. “Parents should strive to keep an open line of communication with their child to know what mental health difficulties they may be dealing with. Often, students worry about adjusting to a new grade or school, increased workloads and concerns about bullying or safety in the classroom can all contribute to student anxiety at the start of a school year.”
Especto said her many of her clients are students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“The most common mental health attribute that I see is anxiety within students,” Especto said. “Many students struggle with adjusting to school and making new friends. Despite those struggles … I am confident that you can make it through no matter what it is.”
To help promote better mental health efforts, the Judicial Court legislative Committee met in January to discuss a stance on mental health in the Jackson metro area.
According to Intervention Courts Director Pam Holmes, pilot mental health intervention courts are currently operating out of circuit courts in Hinds County, along with the first, fourth, sixth and 14th circuits.
Intervention courts, whether for drugs, veterans or mental health, have saved the state more than $1 billion since the legislature created them, officials said. According to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph, incarcerating an individual costs the state about $18,500 per year, while putting them through an intervention program costs about $1,200 to $1,500.
In addition, officials said that one of the critical components for parents as students prepare to return to school is parental financial stress.
Melissa Heart, 52, a mother of two sons that attend the Jackson Public School District, said she is nervous about her children starting school in August and her financial status. Heart said every household isn’t fortunate enough to get all the necessary school supplies, and that can produce anxiety with children.
“Outside of that, I am a single parent that works multiple shifts to help put my boys through school. I am not asking for a handout, but I believe the school should help provide half of the amenities students need for the school year,” Heart said.
— Staff writer Wicker Perlis contributed to this report.