Breaking the Stigma: Payton serves as CCS mental health coordinator

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, September 13, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

In recent years, mental health, especially that of students and young people, has received more backing and attention than it has ever before. For good reason, because in the past two years, the state of Alabama has seen the rate of mental health in young adults and children decline significantly. Reasons for that consist of issues that other generations have not had to deal with such as coming off a global pandemic and the effects of social media.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of high school students said they had poor mental health and just under half said they had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year.

Enter Lindsey Payton, the new Chilton County Schools Mental Health Services Coordinator.

“Because students were feeling that way, and statistics were showing that, I think it raised the awareness for leaders in Alabama to feel like they needed to invest their money and get a mental health staff and program in the school systems.” Payton said.

Last year, (Alabama House of Representative, District 24) Nathaniel Ledbetter joined with Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to fund a $4.5 million appropriation to increase the number of mental health coordinators in the state of Alabama school districts. As a result, there is now a mental health coordinator in each school district in the state of Alabama.

A position that is new to CCS, but one that has been in the works for about two years, the position began as a state-funding position. The school district had to apply for a $40,000 grant to cover the salary of the coordinator and agree to provide a space with the freedom to interact with students, teachers and parents.

“Our district applied for that and received the grant money, and that is how I got here,” Payton said.

Payton is a registered nurse, and her background is in intensive care and surgical services. However, in 2020, she had her own bout with mental health. That developed a passion for mental health that she could not shake and decided to make a career shift.

“I developed a passion for mental health from going through my own mental illness in 2020,” Payton said. “I was having anxiety and panic attacks, so, from that point I decided I really wanted to focus on helping people understand that it is okay to get help. In fact, I feel like it is imperative to get help so that you can go on and regain your mental health to live a purposeful and productive life.”

District Counselor Coordinator Laura Baker has seen the need for the position for quite a while, but the funding for the position was not available. Now, after securing the grant, CCS now has a personal Mental Health Services Coordinator to care for the over 8,000 students in the CCS school district.

“As the Chilton County District Mental Health Coordinator, I will bridge the gap between schools’ counselors and outside-community resources, which will provide families with the best care for their specific need,” Payton said. “I also want to break the stigma of mental health … Sadly, we still face that stigma, and people do not want to hear they have mental health issues, but we all have mental health issues.”

Payton said she is planning mental health awareness events for the county after the start of the year including a mental health awareness campaign. She will also be holding small group sessions with students and helping connect families with personal mental health services.

“I am very excited, and I do not only see my role as a resource for the over 8,000 students in our district, but also as an advocate for raising awareness about the importance of taking care of your mental health in the greater community,” Payton said. “Although I am going to focus and be here serving the students, it is also a parent outreach and family connect system, so that I can provide awareness and resources for people to make sure they are taking the time to take care of their mental health.”

Payton offered advice to any student struggling with mental health, and that is to ask yourself some of these questions each day to evaluate ones mental health — How am I coping with bad news or good news? Am I having a bad day or a good day? Is the jar always half empty or half full?

Answering those questions truthfully each day can give one a good gauge of how their mental health is doing that specific day.