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Kathryn Helgaas Burgum speaks about expanding mental health services at Northern Cass High School. Austin Howard/Forum News Service

Mental health services to be more accessible in rural ND schools

HUNTER, N.D. — Six different school districts in North Dakota are getting improved mental health counseling access in their schools.

The locations include the Northern Cass, Central Cass, Kindred, Hillsboro, Milnor, and Wyndmere school districts.

United Way of Cass-Clay, the Burgum Foundation and North Dakota public school districts recently joined together to expand services to the point mental health services can now be provided to the school districts one or two days a week.

Northern Cass Superintendent Cory Steiner said he believes the project can serve as a pilot program for expanding mental health services throughout the state.

"We're starting to change the narrative in the state. We know mental health services for learners is really important and we're finally starting to see some action," Steiner said.

"We really think we're going to create a wave that the whole state can adopt this model and we're excited for that," he added.

According to the North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior survey, 25 percent of kids in North Dakota are struggling with a mental health issue and one-third of North Dakota youth don't feel like they can speak to an adult about their feelings.

Ashley Krinke works as a mental health counselor at Northern Cass and believes the services they've provided so far and will continue to serve bring the best out of their students.

"Our kids are getting the opportunity to really figure out who they are as individuals and to really hone in on what coping skills are appropriate for them," Krinke said.

Steiner said the initiative provides accessibility to services many students may not have had before.

"We have so many kids now that are being impacted. Nearly 3,000 kids can be impacted by this, just by putting an effort into our rural schools. That's really exciting," Steiner said.

He said schools can serve as a place to help students feel embraced by the community around them.

"Schools need to bring the communities into our buildings, it's not the idea anymore that we have to send kids to get services somewhere else," Steiner said.

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