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Polk Schools ramping up efforts to identify kids struggling with mental illness

Posted at 6:39 PM, May 12, 2017

Teachers grade students on subjects like math, reading, and science, but you can add one more subject area for certain Polk County schools: your mental health.

It’s part of the district’s effort to find and help kids who are struggling with a mental illness, before it’s too late.

“Mental health issues are a cost to our society in a number of different ways,” said Jim Maxwell, Director of Student Services for Polk County Schools.

Polk is ramping up it’s mental health efforts for a good reason. So far this year, more than 725 school aged kids have been baker acted in Polk County — the fifth highest in the state.

“It’s probably, at least in part, due to a lack of preventive services… in this district,” Maxwell said.

So how do you fix it?

Maxwell believes more training and awareness will help.

The district has a crisis team who assessed more than a thousand kids this year believed to be struggling with a mental health issue, but tend to hide it.

“The kids you won’t catch are the kids who are passive, and more internal with their feelings. The child who goes home said,” he said.

The district is also just trying out a new pilot program, thanks to a federal grant. Select schools will assess kids a few months into the year — much like  math or reading test — and try to identify issues early.

The goal is to do something now to prevent a tragedy later.