Social Work Week Highlights Mental Health Needs

National School Social Work Week Emphasizes Importance of Mental Health
Posted on 03/15/2024
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With the recent commemoration of National School Social Work Week, Weakley County Schools is emphasizing the indispensable contributions of its mental health team in providing ongoing support for students and staff.

The district has a total of seven support professionals with diverse backgrounds in social work, psychology, and counseling. Additionally, the team is made up of three school psychologists, two school-based behavioral health liaisons, and a contracted student assistance program counselor. Despite these strong mental health supports, the demand continues to escalate.

This school year, the Student Support Program is at full capacity, serving approximately 300 students on caseloads or awaiting referrals to the School Assistance Program or the School-Based Behavioral Health Liaison. The team has collectively conducted 2,571 sessions, referred 109 individuals to outpatient counseling, assisted 91 in face-to-face crisis service situations, delivered 105 family sessions, made nearly 1,000 phone calls, held 1,282 collaboration meetings, facilitated nearly 60 inpatient treatment and psychiatric evaluation referrals, and more.

Group of mental health professionals smiling in individuals headshots

Safe and Supportive Schools Director Lorna Benson believes that these figures should serve as a red flag about the critical need for mental health services.

“The numbers in our district are a reflection of the data from across the State and nation,” Benson acknowledged. “Mental health and school safety are linked. Where students and educators are concerned, a proactive approach is key. The mental health team recognizes the potential impact of unresolved trauma on students. They serve as a vital support system, not only for students and staff but also for maintaining the overall safety and well-being of the school community,” Benson added.

In mental health situations within schools, social workers play a pivotal role in providing comprehensive support to students. Conducting assessments to identify students' mental health needs and offering counseling services are among the key interventions. Social workers collaborate closely with stakeholders to develop tailored intervention plans and provide crisis intervention and support during emergencies. Additionally, they advocate for students' mental health needs within the school system and promote mental health awareness and prevention programs.

Now in her 16th year with the district, Brittany Jaco is a social worker and the Mental Health Team Supervisor. She is thankful that Weakley County Schools has a strong mental health team.

“The mental health crisis is ongoing, and having an amazing team of mental health professionals has been critical. To say that mental health services are a large need in our schools is a vast understatement,” noted Jaco. “Studies are showing that educators still feel overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, worried, and burned out. Added expectations, increased responsibilities, daily pressures, and work life imbalance add to these feelings. We’re here for our students as well as our faculty and staff,” she said.

The mental health team is comprised of Mental Health Supervisor Brittany Jaco; Student Support Professionals Kellie Sims, Arlene Autry, Megan Cochran, Alex Cunningham, Lindsey Odle, and Scott Smiley; School-Based Behavioral Health Liaisons Hailey Betts [Greenfield] and Melanie Henderson [Westview] and Student Assistance Program Counselor Hilary Duncan [all schools] all three of which are contracted through Carey Counseling Center. Supporting the mental health team are Safe and Supportive Schools Director Lorna Benson and Coordinated School Health Director Bethany Allen.

According to Betsi Foster, Assistant Director of Schools, social workers and support staff serve a particularly vital role in the school system.

“School social workers and support staff serve as advocates for students and families. Their invaluable work remains confidential, so it often escapes public recognition for the significant contributions they make to the school community. By offering hope to students, families, faculty, and staff alike, their impact extends beyond the school walls, leaving an immeasurable mark on our communities," Foster said.

National School Social Work Week is an opportunity for schools, communities, and partners to acknowledge and recognize the impactful work they do to support students, families, and their communities.

To report an anonymous safe schools concern, visit, call or text (731) 681-1487, or email [email protected]. For additional emotional or mental health reporting, text 988 or call 866-791-9227.

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