Create a culture of conversation around youth mental health

Parents and adults alike have strived to create a more open dialogue on youth mental health, which includes community events like the Eat Chat Parent series hosted by Mountain Youth.
Mountain youth / Courtesy photo

When Julie Ann’s daughter was 10 years old, she stopped handing in her homework and started having anxiety, panic attacks. Ultimately, her daughter would be diagnosed with a disruptive mood disorder, which is, according to Julie Ann, a juvenile onset bipolar disorder. While her daughter did well in school and her results never fell below grade level, she skipped school and struggled to make friends.

At the time, Julie Ann’s daughter was dating Vail Christian, but the family eventually pulled her out to enroll in the Eagle County Public School District.

When the family went to schools in Eagle County, Julie Ann asked the school for housing to make sure her daughter got the support she needed. However, she encountered resistance and ended up looking for an outside therapist as well as an educational advisor to get her daughter’s support when needed at school.



“The school system, unless they diagnose or see [the behaviors], so they don’t take the request for assessment or input from the outside parent very seriously, ”she said. “It’s the hardest thing for parents in schools, if they don’t think there’s a problem, but parents do, it’s like you’re nobody.”

Her daughter eventually received an individualized education program at her school, but Julie Ann still felt that the family was doing the heavy lifting and her daughter was still not thriving.



“As parents, we were constant case managers,” said Julie Ann. “It was always us who reached out, we were rarely contacted by the school.”

During COVID-19, the family made the difficult decision to withdraw their daughter from schools in Eagle County and enroll her in a therapeutic boarding school in another state. At this school, she gets the support she needs, thrives and it has made a huge difference for the whole family.

Overall, Julie Ann sees the changes taking place and is excited about the addition of Center Hope clinicians to the school, but as far as her daughter is concerned, it was too little, too late.

“We felt very isolated in our journey and very excluded from the school system,” she said.

Throughout this process, Julie Ann was boosted by her husband and family, but going through it, she said she often felt completely isolated.

“You feel very isolated, you just learn to be on your own and try to navigate, then you are told that you are a helicopter parent because you don’t feel like people understand or are ready to understand. “said Julie Ann. “It was very, very hard.”

For Julie Ann, having more commitment from the school district and an explicit parent support group would have been great. At her daughter’s new school they have an explicit band and she said it was “instrumental and made a huge difference in our ability to cope with the ups and downs.”

The importance of family

When it comes to mental health, the family plays an important role in the well-being of the student. In some cases, stigma is passed down through families, while in others, a culture of understanding and vulnerability can spark new conversations and new levels of support.

“Young people look at the adults in this community whether the adults realize it or not. Modeling healthy behaviors, demonstrating stress management skills, and truly listening to our young people are essential to the well-being of the community, ”said Candace Eves, Prevention Coordinator for Eagle County Schools . “The way our students are doing is a reflection of how our community is doing holistically. “

Generally, as well as culturally, there are still often differences around mental health and the way it is managed. However, parents and families play a vital role in the well-being of the child.

“Families can help set healthy boundaries and expectations for fundamental behaviors that promote wellness,” said Dana Whelan, district wellness coordinator.

For some families, it can be difficult to know when to talk to children about mental health or see when they are struggling.

Often times, Certified Professional Counselor Megan Vogt has said, “They don’t want to open up. Vogt has her own consulting firm in Eagle County where she works primarily with teenagers.

“There is a certain distance and a certain secrecy that occurs at this age, which is completely normal,” she said. “But at the same time, they need to know that their parents are there and that they are supportive and that they are still a home base.”

And when it comes to listening to kids, Vogt stressed the importance of taking them seriously.

“Kids don’t pretend,” she said. “It’s so much more helpful to believe your child and give him the help he needs than to think he is faking it or needing attention, because even if he does, the damage that could be caused by ignoring it just isn’t worth the trouble. this.”

Understanding the warning signs

Although the warning signs vary for students, a good place to start is anything that “seems out of the ordinary,” said Hannah Ross, school clinician and senior clinical supervisor at Hope Center. She added that common warning signs can include students withdrawing from their interests, students talking about suicide, self-injurious behaviors, sleep disturbances, disturbed appetite or anger and continual irritability.

For Julie Ann, she first noticed little things with her daughter: absences, unfulfilled homework, difficulties making friends.

“When you watch with a child with mental health, they’re often socially retarded, often organizationally retarded, but they may not be academically retarded,” she said. “It’s the whole child.”

Casey Wolfington, registered psychologist and senior director of community behavioral health at Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, would like to get to a point where parents treat children’s mental health like any other health issue.

“Start talking about emotions, behaviors and feelings early and often, just like you do with physical problems. We talk about stomach aches with kids all the time. So if we talk about worry and sadness the same way, then it’s okay to talk about it, ”she said.

In order to normalize these conversations and help parents and families understand the value of these conversations and how to recognize the warning signs of mental health, many community organizations have started reaching out to the whole family.

During COVID-19, Carrie Benway, executive director of the Hope Center, noted that the Hope Center has improved its case management services, helping parents and siblings connect with a variety of needed services.

Dr Teresa Haynes, clinical supervisor at the Hope Center, said these even go beyond therapeutic resources and tap into additional areas of need, including resources for finance, food insecurity and housing. Areas that, she said, “you can’t separate mental health issues”.

Families get together for a special Eat, Chat, Parent edition called Move, Chat Parent.
Mountain youth / Courtesy photo

For many years Mountain Youth has provided a program called Eat, Chat, Parent. These are free, bilingual family education programs that address topics that parents and youth in the community have prioritized. Some of the topics for Eat, Chat, Parent this fall and winter include side trauma, inclusion, LGBTQ mental health and support, and cultures of dignity.

According to the organization’s executive director, Michelle Stecher, this allows families to experience education together, spark easier conversations, and develop skills and bonds as a family. With this multigenerational approach, “we saw the opportunity to see the impact at home skyrocket,” she said.

“To make a difference in the lives of our young people, we have to work with family members and caregivers, because if a young person does not feel safe and supported at home, it is a huge risk, a flag. red, ”Stecher said.

Cultural barriers

Bratzo Horruitiner, alongside the staff at My Future Pathways, leads a parenting orientation at the Gypsum Rec Center.
My Future Pathways / Courtesy photo

Within the Hispanic community, there is still a stigma surrounding the issue of mental health.

“A lot of times, especially with Latinos, our families don’t want to talk about it,” said Bratzo Horruitiner, executive director of My Future Pathways. “We are like a pressure cooker. So we need to have these conversations, formalize and make these types of conversations more accessible. “

My Future Pathways, for its part, is creative in providing information on often stigmatized topics. One way is to give parents information they can digest, research, and try to understand at home, where there is less fear of judgment.

“I think if we stay ahead of the game, stay creative and challenge the status quo, I think that’s one of the ways to be successful and support one family at a time,” Horruitiner said.

Gerry Lopez grew up in this macho environment, where mental health was taboo. When he started to struggle with feelings of depression and loneliness, he didn’t know what to do, because of his upbringing, he said. Now he wants more adults to understand that “mental health does not discriminate and trauma is trauma.”

“I have spoken with many young people who would rather come see someone like me who is closer to their age than an adult because of the fear that their trauma will be downplayed and not taken seriously,” Lopez said.

Now, Lopez is working with My Future Pathways and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health to help build conversations about mental health for young people in the Latin American community.

“Once I started therapy in high school I started telling my friends about it and a lot of them told me that they would like the opportunity to do the same, but they had afraid of what their parents would say. Throughout high school I saw and talked to a lot of other Latino men about mental health and saw the need there, ”Lopez said.

Ultimately, none of these issues will be solved in isolation, and talking about them is the best thing we can do.

“There is significant value in just being heard and validated, for all of us, for all of us,” said Haynes. “Overall, it was about educating families, about educating communities about ways and systems to reduce stress, it was about maintaining realistic expectations of yourself, of others. I sometimes think of my five year old, how much more emotionally aware he is than I certainly was at his age. I think we have that impact, it doesn’t show right away. “

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Daniel Lange

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