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Jefferson County health department launches mental health platform for students

"Right now, some preliminary data is showing one in three students are in need of some type of mental health resource," said the county's ASPEN coordinator.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. — Monday morning at Festus High School, lectures were underway.

However, the seats weren't packed with students. It was filled with leaders trying to protect them.

The Jefferson County Safety Summit had numerous stakeholders from superintendents to mental health professionals.

It was meant to educate and improve safety measures for the upcoming school year.

Sgt. Brian Rossomanno works with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Special Operations Division. 

"We wanted to talk to them what the police response would look like," he said.

He said it's adding one more school resource officer to the mix, resulting in 10 SROs total.

This week, it'll have its active shooter training. An important timing after the Uvalde massacre.

"In Uvalde, there was a breakdown," Rossomanno said. "Things didn't go the way they should have, that's clear. We will make minor adjustments to our training to hit those important points and make sure we're driving some points home. If God forbid that ever happened in Jefferson County, you won't see that kind of response from our deputies."

Another critical topic was mental health.

Jaclyn Brown is the ASPEN Coordinator at the Jefferson County Health Department.

"Right now, some preliminary data is showing one in three students are in need of some type of mental health resource," she said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all extreme of suicidal ideation or other issues, but it is showing there is a higher need for mental health in Jefferson County."

In 2015, the health department met with 40 stakeholders and learned Jefferson County residents had trouble accessing resources.

In 2018, Brown shares, there was a drastic increase in youth suicides in the community.

That's why it created ASPEN, which stands for access to services providing essential needs.

It's a virtual platform for students to do self-screenings.

A waiver signed by a parent or guardian allows students to utilize this self-screening. 

Once done, it alerts a counselor.

"Students receive early identification for mental health issues, substance use and violence ideation. Once they are identified at a low, moderate, or high risk, the school counselors and licensed counselors are able to connect them with additional resources," she said. 

It also gives counselors access to an extensive database from information to dental health to food insecurity. 

"It links them to what resources meet that students need through some unique filters such as insurance, transportation needs, which resources are in the school or within a 25-to-100-mile radius," Brown said.

This virtual platform was developed in 2021 and it's done some testing already.

The plan is to roll this out this coming fall with the goal to have it in all the Jefferson County schools.

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