Basalt High School hires mental health staff member to combat ‘hopelessness’ | PostIndependent.com

Basalt High School hires mental health staff member to combat ‘hopelessness’

Craig Farnum joined the Basalt High School team last spring to support the school's need for mental health services, thanks in part to a grant from Eagle County.

When a mental health advisory committee with representation from the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys was formed, its members discussed numerous issues pertaining to the topic of mental health, which has already generated a national discussion.

The committee, which includes health professionals, parents and those who have been affected by mental health, identified many pertinent concerns for schools in the neighboring valleys, but highlighted one in particular.

"School-based counselors was the overwhelming need," Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. "Schools are really in charge of educating our children. They're not really experts in mental health, and what they needed was people who could respond when kids are in crisis."

Last week, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners assigned $400,000 from the county's Mental Health Fund to assist in getting more school-based counselors in Eagle and Roaring Fork Valley schools.

The Roaring Fork School District received $80,000, and subsequently secured a mental health position at Basalt High School for the 2018-19 academic year, working in conjunction with the Aspen Hope Center.

Glenwood Springs High School and Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale already have similar positions.

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"When we heard that people would be able to write proposals for that money, we went right ahead and wrote one for a mental health professional for Basalt High School, because we did have a death by suicide last year, and that really took a toll on that community," Roaring Fork School District Family Services Director Sarah Fedishen said.

According to a press release from the Roaring Fork School District, last spring Basalt High School identified 84 students, out of a student population of 481, who needed therapy but were not receiving it because of either financial, logistical or transportation issues.

"After the death by suicide I went in and actually met with some kiddos, and what we are seeing with the Healthy Kid Survey is that students are feeling more hopeless, and that number actually goes up each time we do the survey," Fedishen told the Post Independent.

Fedishen explained how even students with 4.0 GPAs, who have supportive families and are already accepted to the university of their dreams often times felt hopeless.

Basalt High School's mental health provider, Craig Farnum, was hired in the spring and has been tasked with remedying that feeling of hopelessness.

"Craig came to Basalt High School from Colorado Mountain College. He's bilingual and he's fantastic. Day one, he went around and introduced himself to all of the students," Fedishen explained. "We actually have a mental health professional at Roaring Fork High School and Glenwood Springs High School, and our outcomes have been great. We know this model works."

Eagle County's Mental Health Fund receives a healthy portion of its money from voter-approved sales and excise taxes imposed on recreational marijuana in Eagle County.

"What we were hoping as commissioners was that if we do a little bit of press around the fact that we're allocating this amount of money and expect good things from it, that other philanthropists and foundations might see that and respond," McQueeney said.

"The students said, 'Thank you for sending people that care about us and giving us a way to talk about these things in a confidential way.' We opened those doors, and when we did that we realized what a need there was," Fedishen added.

Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said the school district appreciates the partnership with Eagle County Public Health and the support from the county commissioners.

"They have been intensively involved in our corner of Eagle County and engaged in a range of issues, including the recent wildfire, early childhood education, and mental health services," Stein said in the district press release. "The funding for a full-time mental health counselor will go a long way toward keeping our kids healthy, safe and successful in school."