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NCDHHS to provide eligible North Carolina public schools with free mental and behavioral health training and support

The initiative comes as children are experiencing dramatic increases in pandemic-relative behavioral health issues.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Mental and behavioral health struggles continue to create challenges in the school setting. It’s something experts say was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the state is stepping in with extra resources to help.

North Carolina Psychiatry Access Line (NC-PAL) will start providing mental and behavioral health training and support to participating school administrators and counselors in 130 public schools around North Carolina.  

There is an urgent and growing need for mental and behavioral health support among children and teens.

“In North Carolina for example, we’ve seen almost a 50% increase in children who are really struggling with major significant depression," Dr. Charlene Wong, assistant secretary for children and families with NCDHHS told WCNC Charlotte.

But Wong said half to three quarters of those kids are not getting the help they need and it’s showing in schools.

“What we heard from them from several schools was because students were struggling so much with behavioral health challenges in school, it was really taking a lot of time from school leadership, teachers and staff," Wong said.

Ten districts in the WCNC Charlotte viewing area will get expanded access to resources, including Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. In CMS, 22 schools were selected to participate, it includes elementary, middle and high schools.

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NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley emphasized how NC-PAL's ability to provide public school staff with direct access to psychiatric experts will dramatically improve access to mental health care for children. 

"Expanding access to psychiatric experts is one of the many ways we are investing in behavioral health as well as the well-being of children and families across North Carolina," Kinsley said.

NC-PAL, a collaboration between NCDHHS and Duke University's Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, is free to local schools, and also a part of the NCDHHS StrongSchoolsNC COVID-19 Testing Program. As a condition for receiving mental and behavioral health funding, schools must provide free COVID-19 testing.

“Schools have definitely expressed the desire to have this kind of support because they have seen a rise in children having these mental health issues that are happening at school that are impacting their ability to learn the ability of school staff to teach," Wong said.

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School district and charter school invitations for participation in NC-PAL are based on their indicated preferences while maximizing access to the program with statewide geographical representation and for those communities with high needs. It is the responsibility of the school district to identify the schools in their district for program participation. 

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Below is a list of districts in and around the Charlotte area that have been chosen to participate and therefore choose specific schools for the program. 

  • Anson County Schools
  • Ashe County Schools
  • Avery County Schools
  • Cabarrus County Schools
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
  • Kannapolis City Schools
  • Newton-Conover City Schools
  • Richmond County Schools
  • Stanly County Schools
  • Watauga County Schools

CMS officials told WCNC Charlotte they were given 22 spots and that more schools expressed interest in the program. The following schools are participating.

  • EC Specialized Behavior Support Team
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Academy
  • Rocky River High School
  • Quail Hollow Middle School
  • Winget Park
  • Joseph W. Grier Academy
  • Dilworth Elementary
  • Whitewater Academy
  • Steele Creek Elementary School
  • Elizabeth Lane Elementary
  • Westerly Hills Academy
  • Carmel Middle
  • Charlotte Mecklenburg Academy
  • Reid Park Academy
  • Charles H. Parker Academic Center
  • Paw Creek Elementary
  • East Mecklenburg High School
  • Ranson IB Middle School
  • Bailey Middle School
  • Independence High School
  • Trillium Spring Montessori
  • Oakdale Elementary School

If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.

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