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Seeking Solutions: Program offers mental health help to Charlotte-area students

Therapists are meeting the students where they are: in school.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Students across the Charlotte area are getting help they desperately need thanks to a program launched by a number of community partners including Atrium Health and Bank of America. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors say more students are facing mental health issues than ever before. 

This program is seeking solutions to that, as the therapists are meeting the students where they are: in school.

Editor's Note: The following story discusses suicide. Reader discretion is advised. 

Ameena Mbaye loves to dance, but two years ago even the thing she was most passionate about didn’t interest her.

“It was a very low point for me, low self-esteem, not fitting in," Mbaye said. "I didn’t feel good enough. I just wanted someone to see me.”

She was a junior in high school at the time.

“It was depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts -- all those in one,” she said.

It was overwhelming, she said.

“It got so bad you thought of taking your life?" WCNC Charlotte's Michelle Boudin asked.

“I did, I thought that was the only way out to get rid of the pain and no one seeing me hearing my voice," Mbaye said.

Twice she tried to kill herself.

“It was at home with pills, just closing myself in a room and no one knew," Mbaye said.

She kept if from the people she’s closest to, even her mom and her twin sister.

“I remember one day I was sitting in my class and I... I decided to speak up and talk to my teacher,” she said.

Her teacher set her up with a therapist who’s part of a special program run by Atrium Health that connects mental health counselors to students right at their school.

Digital town hall: Suicide prevention

Ashley Wright is the manager of school based services and a licensed clinical mental health counselor. She’s the one who spoke with Mbaye at school that day.

“Because were able to give kids care while they’re in school, the families do not have to leave work, the students don’t have to miss school," Wright said. 

Together they told her mom, Tyesha Thompson. She said she had no idea her daughter had tried to take her own life.

“No idea and I was home I work from home," Thompson said. "I had no clue, there was no signs.”

She's forever grateful for the help her daughter has received. 

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“This was heaven sent for me as a working parent -- heaven sent for working people," Thompson said.

Mbaye said the program literally saved her life.

“If I didn’t have the therapist I don’t think I’d be sitting here," she said.

She is now a freshman at UNC Charlotte. She wants to study business and help others struggling with mental health.

Wright is thrilled and proud, and still keeps up with her. 

“To know she got through it and she’s going to college, that’s what I’m here for," Wright said. "I know this program is making the change in so many kids' lives.”

The program started in the rural areas but thanks to a $10 million donation from Bank of America to Atrium Health, who heads up the program, the virtual therapists are now in dozens of schools in the Charlotte area and have helped thousands of students.

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.

Contact Michelle Boudin at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookX and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is committed to reporting on the issues facing the communities we serve. We tell the stories of people working to solve persistent social problems. We examine how problems can be solved or addressed to improve the quality of life and make a positive difference. WCNC Charlotte is seeking solutions for you. Send your tips or questions to newstips@wcnc.com. 


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