Kentucky School District Takes Lead on Mental Health, Drug-Use Prevention

In Trimble County, school staff are expanding services for students and families aimed at curbing vaping, marijuana and opioid use, and increasing psychological supports.

Denise Hall, advocate for the Trimble CARES Coalition, provides one-on-one education for students who violated school drug and alcohol policies, and led the push to install vape detectors in the county’s high school.

She said more recently, schools have grappled to address rising anxiety, depression and self-harm, among youths.

“We are bringing in-school mental-health counselors,” Hall explained. “We are filling a lot of duties that you think would be parental; we’re also offering parental classes.”

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey published last year, 37% of high school students nationwide reported their mental health was not good most or all of the time during the pandemic. Hall is a recent recipient of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s 2022 Gil Friedell Award for her career serving Trimble County students.

Jessica Wilcoxson, superintendent of Trimble County Public Schools, pointed out detention or other discipline methods for students addicted to vaping do little to address the problem. She said schools have implemented counseling sessions to work at the root cause of why a child begins vaping.

“So although there are still consequences in place for when a student vapes, we are now turning more toward methods to try to help remediate,” Wilcoxson noted.

Hall added the region’s economic situation has played a role in students’ drug use, noting many parents travel to other communities to work, leaving adolescents unsupervised for most of the day. She argued a one-size-fits-all model can’t meet families’ needs.

“We’ve learned that not one thing works, but to combine a lot of things and to have as much of the community involved really helps,” Hall observed.

In addition to vaping, federal data show teenagers nationwide are now heavily misusing prescription drugs, which can impair healthy brain development and increase the risk of engaging in other harmful behaviors.

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