Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — This winter and spring 130 public schools across North Carolina will receive mental and behavioral health training and consultation through the N.C. Psychiatry Access Line (NC-PAL). The services are designed to ensure participating K-12 school staff have the support they need to help their students who may be dealing with mental and behavioral health concerns. The program is free to local schools as part of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services StrongSchoolsNC COVID-19 Testing Program.

There is an urgent need to support behavioral health in our schools. During the pandemic, the rate of children discharged from an emergency department with a behavioral health condition increased by as much as 70 percent.

“The North Carolina Psychiatry Access Line expands access to mental health care for children in a dramatic way. Now, staff in 130 schools will have direct access to psychiatric experts who can help them better support our students,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Expanding access to psychiatric experts is one of the many ways we are investing in behavioral health as well as the well-being of children and families across North Carolina.”

Since 2019 NC-PAL has provided consultation to primary care providers on children’s psychiatric conditions and training on children’s mental health. Now, school administrators and counselors will not have to worry they don’t have the tools and support to succeed in their work with youth experiencing emotional distress, having suicidal thoughts or struggling with aggressive behaviors.

School behavioral health teams working with NC-PAL will have access to a child psychiatry expert who will provide consultation and training based on the behavioral health concerns each team is encountering in their school.

Participating schools opted in to the NC-PAL program and other mental and behavioral health funding and support opportunities at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year when opting into the StrongSchoolsNC COVID-19 Testing Program. NC-PAL is a collaboration between Duke University’s  Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and NCDHHS.

“The pandemic has impacted our students in many ways, including more students struggling with mental and behavioral health issues,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt.

There has been exceptionally high demand by schools for these mental and behavioral health resources. The 130 public schools invited to participate in the NC-PAL program were chosen based on their indicated preferences, while maximizing access to the program with statewide geographical representation and for those communities with high needs.

“Together, NCDHHS and the NC Department of Public Instruction are building on the success of last year’s COVID-19 testing program in schools to offer these new mental and behavioral health programs so that schools have more resources to support the physical and mental health of their students and staff,” said Charlene Wong, M.D., NCDHHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families.

To be eligible for mental and behavioral health funding opportunities provided through the StrongSchoolsNC COVID-19 Testing Program, schools must provide free COVID-19 testing to students.

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