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"We can't overlook this" | Experts say mental health programs in schools must continue

As more school systems consider new mental health resources, experts said they need to be creative to reach as many students as possible.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The experience of a global pandemic has been hard for adults and students alike. Sarah Walsh at the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network said this is something they are working to help people through.

"Individuals are reaching out more than they ever have before," she said.

But as students navigate a new normal in the classroom, schools and non-profits are navigating new ways to get suicide prevention and mental health resources to students, such as putting them online, which Walsh said could help.

"We know students are savvy with technology so putting it out there for a student to locate is going to be a big help," she said.

School systems are also considering going beyond just putting resources online. They are also using virtual tools to reach out and check on students.

On Wednesday the Knox County Board of Education discussed adding virtual suicide prevention options to its own policy. It will officially vote on the measures in its next meeting.

Mental Health Association of Tennessee's Ben Harrington said it is a conversation that schools and programs need to have.

"The issue really is we still need to make sure mental health education still reaches kids however they might be learning," he said.

His organization has had to make changes too, Harrington said.

"Over the summer our staff had to get really creative in how to adapt the program to virtual and learn platforms schools may use," he added.

He is talking about platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. As the month goes on, he said communities could see schools and programs find new ways to access students.

"We can't abandon the opportunity to provide mental health and suicide prevention outreach just because circumstances threw a wrench at us," Harrington said.