United Way of Cass Clay has partnered with Sanford Health to place a student wellness facilitator in the West Fargo School District.
United Way and Sanford each invested 25-thousand dollars for a total of 50-thousand to hire the Imagine Thriving Student Wellness Facilitator this summer, who will begin serving students in the district this fall.
Dr. David Flowers is West Fargo Public Schools Superintendent. He says the need for increased access to mental health care in his district has been evident to him in recent years.
"In West Fargo Public Schools we have ten thousand students, and a history of some of our students having some serious mental health needs. We've lost students to suicide. Our challenges include the sheer volume of students that may have mental health needs at any given time. Another challenge is helping those with needs gain access to appropriate care in a timely manner. Our counseling staff can only do so much, so a partnership with a person whose sole purpose is to serve students with such needs is important."
Abby Tow is Executive Director of Imagine Thriving, an organization that builds a network of mental health professionals. She says the addition of this facilitator in West Fargo helps fill a gap in care throughout the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.
"Our vision was to have student wellness facilitator programming in all three school districts within five years. And with funding from local businesses and individual donors, the pilot program began in the Fargo School District in 2014. The following year, it started in Moorhead. And now it's in West Fargo. This is fantastic. This innovative programming has helped connect over 700 area students with mental illness to mental health care at the earliest signs of distress, preventing crisis."
United Way President Kristi Huber says mental illnesses are indeed medical conditions, and many students are struggling. She says according to the most recent North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 27 percent of North Dakota high schoolers felt so sad or hopeless for every day two or more weeks in a row, they stopped doing some usual activities. She says 20 percent of 6 thru 8th graders and 16 percent of 9 thru 12th graders considered attempting suicide, with 7 percent and 9 percent (respectively) of those students actually attempting suicide one or more times in the past year.