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After pandemic trauma, Presby Psych offers free therapy for CMS teachers and staff

Justin Ashley.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
CMS teacher Justin Ashley, who has written a book about coping with depression and addiction while excelling as a teacher, spoke at the launch of Presby Psych's "Embrace Teacher Mental Health" drive.

Teachers and other staff at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are about to join other local frontline workers who can get free therapy for dealing with trauma and stress.

Presby Psych, a Charlotte nonprofit group, first offered free counseling sessions to police and firefighters. During the pandemic the offer was extended to local health care workers.

"We are a trauma-informed organization and we have trauma specialists, so we kind of are drawn to people who we know have suffered some kind of trauma or deep stress," said Executive Director Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea.

Frawley-O’Dea said education has always been demanding and difficult, and the turmoil of coping with COVID-19 made it worse.

"We saw them as another population that had been very stressed and could use our services and maybe save some of them from having to leave the profession," she said.

Justin Ashley, a CMS teacher who has written a book about his mental health journey as a teacher, helped Presby Psych launch the teacher mental health program last week. He talked about winning awards and pouring his energy into his classroom while his marriage fell apart and he sunk into depression and addiction.

Rehab, individual therapy and marriage counseling helped him rebuild his life and career, he told the group.

Beginning June 1, CMS teachers and other employees are eligible for five free counseling sessions, and Presby Psych will cover insurance co-pays up to $30 for additional sessions. Frawley-O’Dea says her group received calls from teachers who wanted to schedule sessions as soon as the fund-raising was launched last week.

CMS has 18,600 employees, but Frawley-O'Dea says she doesn't expect anything like that number to sign up. So far her group is working with about 60 total police officers, firefighters and health care workers.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.