Reaching high school students who may have mental health problems is the work that Dr. Rick Brokaw, a licensed and certified school psychologist with a doctorate from Penn State, has undertaken at Cape Henlopen High School.
He’s been there for six years, working both at Cape and Mariner Middle School in Milton. And, he is one of two mental health professionals working with students, helping them during high school and in preparing for life after school.
“Sometimes, a student will be moody,” Brokaw said. “That could be caused by not getting enough sleep. That’s fairly easy to diagnose.
“A decline in academics could be a significant problem,” he continued. “The student may share their concerns with another student or a teacher. Frequently, that comes back to me. Sometimes, a faculty member will see or hear of a possible problem, such as unhealthy relationships in or out of school.”
Mostly, the students that Brokaw works with are 13, 14 or up to 19 years of age. “Parents often seek help for a troubled teenager,” he said. “But, the most common way a student comes to see me is through a teacher referral. Lately, though, I have seen an increase in students referring other students for help.” Then, parents are notified of possible counseling to take place.
“When we do our counseling, it’s parents, teachers and students,” Brokaw said. “All are important. Cape has compassionate, caring teachers,” said Brokaw. “Sometimes, they’ll spot a potential problem in something the student writes for class.”
Sometimes, counseling in the private sector is needed, especially when the student graduates. “The student may need extended or long-term help and support. Mental health counseling in Sussex county is not widely available but we do what we can.”
Sometimes, teens will not recognize that they have a mental health problem. “Seventy percent want help,” Brokaw said. “They don’t have to meet me half way at first. But then, hopefully, they’ll develop insight into the problem and pursue counseling. Most students want to be good at something. But, some teens are so good at being bad, they don’t want to change.”
Brokaw has also worked with students from the Sussex Consortium in Lewes who are in classes at Cape. “They may be autistic or have Asperger’s Syndrome,” he said.
“Time is our biggest challenge,” Brokaw said. “To meet and interact with the teens, their parents, teachers and other counseling resources takes time. We work against the clock.”
“I care about the students,’ he said. “And, I worry about some of them.”