Written by Kelly Kapitz
National Mental Health Awareness Month was first celebrated in 1949, but its origins date back to the late 1800s. Clifford Whittingham Beers was one of five children in his family, all who suffered from mental illness. After spending time in an institution, he learned that the mental health field had a dubious reputation for poor treatment and malpractice. He went on to write a book called, “A Mind That Found Itself”, propelling national recognition of mental health issues and its imperative for proper treatment. Today amid the pandemic, mental health issues in children and adults have gained more attention as schools and communities grapple with how to properly support students.
The last 24 months of the pandemic have hit our children particularly hard. The American Psychological Association reported 71% of parents felt that their child was substantially impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, surveys indicated that emergency room visits for youth due to mental health crises were up 24%. Schools and community partners have been working hard to ensure that children have the services they need.
Various steps are underway in Marathon County to improve and treat the mental health of our children. In the public-school setting, all ten public school districts have undertaken interventions to foster mental well-being. This has included providing information to families, holding after school meetings, positively utilizing social media, and making mental health services available within the school setting.
The Marathon County School-Based Counseling Consortium (MCS-BCC)
One example of a county-wide effort is the Marathon County School-Based Counseling Consortium (MCS-BCC). The MCS-BCC was created in response to school district requests for school-based mental health services and 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data showing that almost ¼ of Marathon County students were reporting feeling depressed. School-based services eliminate common barriers for families which often serve as obstacles in accessing community-based treatment.
The MCS-BCC began providing therapy services in schools in the 2017-2018 school year under a three-prong model:
- Provide direct therapy services
- Provide education for school staff to create a culture of mental wellness
- Provide resources for students and parents to reduce mental health stigma
Client Satisfaction Survey data completed by 6th – 12th graders who participated in counseling in the 2020-2021 school year revealed that 56% of respondents had not spoken with a mental health professional prior to their school-based counselor. This data suggests that over half of the students receiving counseling services in Marathon County schools would not have had access to this treatment without school-based services.
Moreover, of these same respondents, 75% reported a score of three or four on a four-point scale asking if counseling was helpful to them. Overall, students, families, and school districts report positive experiences with the services that are provided in schools through the MCS-BCC. These services have helped to address the barriers youth often face in accessing treatment.
Furthermore, the MCS-BCC has supported a variety of events in the past few years that provide education and resources on mental health to students, school district staff, and families. Often the clinics partnering with districts, provide therapists to present on a variety of mental health topics at these events. Just this past month, both the D.C. Everest School District and the Mosinee School District partnered with the MCS-BCC and multiple community organizations to sponsor Community Wellness Events.
Mental Health First Aid Training
In addition to the linkages with outside resources, professional development activities have been a top priority for schools. Utilizing training such as Mental Health First Aid and resources from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on School Mental Health, districts and community partners have attempted to provide resources to support school staff in assisting students who may be struggling.
How Parents/Caregivers Can Help
Even with all of the support, parents remain the primary caregiver and support for their child. Children who have positive family support systems are better able to navigate the temporary and not so temporary mental health challenges they face. There are several strategies that parents/caregivers can employ to support children who are struggling.
- Manage your child’s social media time. A study by Pew Research Center found that 45% of teens are on social media “constantly.” Over usage of social media has been found to increase student depression and anxiety. Parents need to talk with their child about social media usage, set reasonable limits and monitor their child’s sites.
- Provide healthy models for managing stress and emotions. You can help your children learn how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way by modeling coping skills at home. You can engage in these skills with your child or talk them through doing them on their own. Activities such as deep breathing, using stress balls, making art (painting, coloring, doodling) or going for walks can be great strategies for coping with feelings.
- Watch for mood or behavioral changes. It’s very normal for kids to go through changes in behavior while progressing through different developmental stages. However, if you notice that your child has become more withdrawn or isolated from their friends, family or routine, it may be a sign that they’re experiencing a situation or feeling that they don’t know how to process on their own. Check in with your child and let them know you’re there and ready to support them however they need.
- Communicate regularly. It’s important that your child knows they can approach you with any issue, and that they will be received and listened to with love and support. Simply letting them know that you are there to support and listen to them without judgment can increase the likelihood that they’ll come to you when they have a problem.
- Create a routine and set clear boundaries at home. Uncertainty about day-to-day schedules can lead to a lot of stress or anxiety in a child’s life. Creating a general routine at home can provide some relief and peace for your child, whether it’s a schedule for daily meals or a weekly movie night. Having clear boundaries is also important for your child to know what is expected of them at home and can minimize feelings of frustration from both parent and child.
- Let them know they are loved and supported. For a child, one of the most important things you can provide is an environment where they know they are loved and important. They know they are supported no matter what they do, and this increases their feelings of security and safety in the home.
- Get kids moving. Research has proven that physical activity has enormous benefits for learning, physical well-being and mood. Helping children find a type of movement they enjoy, even from an early age, is a great way to ensure they remain engaged and interested. Participating in movement together with your child can also be a great way to get them involved.
- Get Professional Help. Recognizing when your child needs help is a crucial skill to have as a parent. There may be times when it can be overwhelming or frustrating to try to handle your child’s behaviors or respond appropriately to their emotions. Don’t be afraid to find and ask for help. The benefits are to both parents and children. The United Way of Marathon County has compiled a list of mental health resources in Marathon County.
As our community emerges from the pandemic, a system-wide approach is the best opportunity to have a lasting impact on overall well-being. Marathon County is fortunate to have multiple partners working to create a safe, healthy, and prosperous community.
Dr. Kelly Kapitz has been involved in rural education for over 30 years. She began her career as a school psychologist and later entered administration as a Director of Special Education and Pupil Services for the Marathon County Special Education Department. She received her PhD in Education Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her dissertation and particular area of interest is transition services to students with disabilities. She has served on several state and local taskforces related to providing high-quality educational services to rural students. Dr. Kapitz serves on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services. She and her husband have three children and enjoy tending their apple orchard and traveling. Email Dr. Kelly Kapitz.
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