School district guidance counselors address student mental health issues during uncertain times


Across the county high school student suicide rates have gone up. Some research suggests that young students not being able to go to school and seek help could be contributing factors to the issues.

We spoke to guidance counselors from local school districts about the efforts they are making to address mental health issues during these uncertain times.

Local guidance counselors say that now more than ever they are reaching out to students.

Guidance counselors said that though support might look different, they are still available to provide services.

At the Erie School District students are encouraged to voice their mental health concerns, but that isn’t always easy.

One official said that if it is an academic issue, guidance counselors are often picking up on it and can refer them to different programs.

“Maybe this child is suffering from depression or maybe there’s abuse going on at home or whatever those issues may be. Then that mental health specialist would get involved with them,” said Patti Palotas, Clinical Team Leader, Mental Health Specialists at the Erie School District.

Palotas added that the Erie school District has been creative this year. Palotas said that some students prefer to talk on the phone while others prefer through video.

A lot of students are struggling while not having the same support including extracurricular activities and being able to socialize with classmates.

“We’re really working with them to try and build their supports, but just in creative ways,” said Palotas.

Palotas added that some students meet for virtual support groups.

In other school districts such as Fairview, guidance counselors are meeting with between five to twelve students each day.

One counselor said that they are reaching a wider audience through a messaging platform available to all students.

“We have messaged every single student in our school, checking in on their mental health. Some students really like the message format, and some students have really enjoyed talking with students one on one,” said Kimberly Jensen from Fairview High School.

One official from UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Harbor said that they continue to meet with some patients in person to manage the increase in people seeking behavioral health services.

“We actually meet with students and families in their home or at their school if that’s preferred around the clock. Then we’ll help them determine what would be the next step with them,” said Mandy Fauble, Director of Clinical Health Services at UPMC Western Behavioral Health.

Many local school districts including Erie and Fairview are teamed up with Safe Harbor to get students the support they may need.

“Our crisis program is actually helps to follow up to get students connected to those resources were very lucky in Erie County that we have that 24 hour program,” said Fauble.

Fauble added that students in need of services can call 456-2014, and know there are a variety of ways for young people to receive support locally.

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