BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Thousands of Bay District School students were referred for mental health services during the past school year. Many are coping with trauma from Hurricane Michael, COVID-19 and other events or family issues.

“The past four years have been the worst four years of my life,” Rosenwald Ninth Grader Clayton Ranow said.

Like many students throughout the district, 15-year-old Ranow suffers from depression. Ranow is grieving his parent’s divorce. School social workers said students react differently to traumas. 

“These behaviors and traumas manifest in many different ways,” Deerpoint Elementary School Social Worker Ryan Roberts said. “It can be temper tantrums for example. Behavior regulation is something a lot of our younger students struggle with.”

Ranow said he shuts down and refuses to talk to anyone.

“A couple weeks ago I just, I just quit doing school work,” Ranow said. “I stopped, I was doing like I was doing the bare minimum.”

Ranow said he stopped hanging out with friends and began eating lunch by himself. Some days he doesn’t talk to a single person. He said depression doesn’t just affect his social life. It also affects his health.

“I have high cholesterol and high sodium and all that.” Ranow said. “My diet, couple times when I went to the doctor I had high blood sugar and all that. So I just stopped caring.”

If he hadn’t stopped eating fast food, there could have been deadly consequences.

“I need to start taking care of myself again or I could have a heart attack at the age of 15,” Ranow said.

Bay District Schools refers students to mental health teams. All ninth graders receive training to become more aware of depression. Other students have different issues stemming from depression and anxiety.

“You know most of the common things that we see are things like sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, disturbance of their energy level, concentration, memory,” Bay District Schools Mental Health Counselor Ken Chisholm said. “You know those kinds of things really interfere with a child’s ability to learn.”

The district has counselors that work with students. Each school has at least one social worker on staff, with 40 clinical staff workers employed throughout the district.

Guidance counselors meet with students and can recommend therapy. There are now more licensed clinicians, social workers, family therapists and health workers than ever before. 

“We provide just a tremendous amount of non-clinical services for students,” Chisholm said. “Everything from social skills, individually, in groups.”

Chisholm said students meet with the support staff throughout the school day, during non-core classes. Despite staffing increases, Husfelt said there are more mental health issues than ever.

“Sometimes parents are in denial,” Husfelt said. “Sometimes parents don’t want us to tell them that their child needs counseling.”

Counselors can meet with students once a week, or multiple times a day. More than 1,200 community care referrals took place this school year, and more than half of the kids were referred to community care agencies. 

Chisholm said clinicians and non-clinical staff have ongoing training programs. The district also has telehealth services for students.