The 2018 Illinois Youth Survey – which included Piatt County-wide data for the first time – opened up a lot of eyes when it comes to substance abuse and depression locally.

One piece of data showed that 20 percent of high school sophomores and seniors had considered suicide.

The bottom line to me is, one in five is not acceptable,” Piatt County Mental Health Director Tony Kirkman told the Bement school board on May 8.

The youth survey and other research has led to a collaborative effort between The Center, Kirby Medical Center and the DeWitt-Piatt Bi-County Health Department to hopefully bring a licensed mental health worker and a nurse into several Piatt County schools this fall.

Access is one of the biggest issues for us,” said Kirkman, noting that while the mental health center already offers teen-based help, it’s a hurdle to get people to come to the center in Monticello.

Now the idea is, instead of clients coming to the mental health center, the mental health center will go to the clients.

Kirkman also told the school board that research has shown “Adverse Childhood Experiences” like abuse can impact a child’s physical and mental development. Another effect youth are seeing more these days is stress, which is difficult to shed at younger ages.

The brain is not meant to stay in the state of stress,” he said. “What we know is the hippocampus releases a whole bunch of neurochemicals like a stress hormone. Too much of that actually breaks down neurons and actually reduces the hippocampus, so does not allow a resiliency to stress. What that does is rob them of the ability to bounce back from stress.”

Kirby Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Steve Tenhouse said the collaborative effort also ties into a more modern healthcare model that emphasizes preventative care, with the idea of keeping people away from expensive hospital stays and lengthy treatment.

One good way to start is with our kids,” said Tenhouse.

He added that working with other entities could also get help to those who need it quicker by streamlining the process with less repeated paperwork.

Public Health Director David Remmert noted that cooperation between mental and physical health personnel will be a key to the program’s success.

We had discussed a public health nurse/social worker working together in the schools. The value of the integrated system is that it has two components: one is more prevention oriented that would work in partnership with local schools, the second is more clinic-based, working with local physicians for at-risk populations,” Remmert told the Journal-Republican.

I think this would be amazing if we can get it to work out,” said Bement School Superintendent Sheila Greenwood.

Board members seemed to agree.

I appreciate you being proactive with this, because mental health is such an important issue, and so many of our kids have so many things they are dealing with. Any extra help is so appreciated,” said Janice Fogerson, who is also a middle school teacher.

It sounds like a big goal, a big challenge, but a good one,” added School Board President Todd Scott.

Tenhouse said schools in Atwood, Bement, DeLand-Weldon and Monticello have all shown interest. PCMHC, Kirby and the health department would foot the bill for at least the first year as the program’s effectiveness is analyzed.

Tenhouse said teleconferencing when applicable could also help students receive help remotely when health professionals are not on campus.

Greenwood said that, ideally, it would be good to have the program in place by August registration sessions so that releases could be signed by parents and guardians.

Kirkman added their intention is not to interfere with or replace current school counselors, but to “be another resource in your toolbox.”

Youth survey data

Last year was the first one that all Piatt County schools took part in the annual Illinois Youth Survey. Some of the results included:

22 percent of eighth grade students self-reported that they have used alcohol;

27 percent of 10th grade students reported using alcohol; 18 percent reported using marijuana; and 21 percent reported using tobacco or were vaping;

among 12th grade youth, 51 percent reported using alcohol; 28 percent used marijuana; 34 percent used tobacco or were vaping;

32 percent of 12th grade youth agreed that they would benefit from an individual substance abuse assessment;

Piatt County exceeded state averages in the area of bullying in eighth, 10th and 12th grades; and

27 percent of eighth grade students, 29 percent of 10th grade students, and 37 percent of 12th grade students experienced depression; 20 percent of 10th and 12th grade students had considered suicide.