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District offers multiple avenues of mental health support for students

(02/19/2021) Anoka-Hennepin offers a variety of resources to students with its school-based mental health program.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just over 20%, or one in five children, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder and half of all cases of chronic mental illness begins by age 14.

School-based mental health therapists, social workers, school counselors and school psychologists can work with families to address emotional, behavioral or social issues that may be interfering with a student’s ability to be successful in school, at home or in the community.

School social workers are available to work with any student and provide support to both them and their families.

“Part of our role is to find out what are the things that are getting in the way of the students’ learning and success in school, and once we’ve identified those needs and focus on each student’s strengths to help with those needs, we are able to help provide the support needed,” said Kristina Kothrade, social worker at Andover High School.

A social worker can provide short term counseling sessions individually or in groups, assessments on basic needs to assist families with resources and referrals.

To assist families in navigating mental health services, the district has partnered with Headway Emotional Health Services, People Incorporated, and Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health & Well Being to provide on-site, year-round support. Telehealth and/or in-person sessions are available.

In addition to the above resources, each school in the district has its own support system within the building, including access to a school counselor, nurse, psychologist and a chemical health specialist.

An important step for parents or families is to be aware of and discuss the mental health of their child.

“Communication is extremely important,” Kothrade said. “I think there is this misunderstanding of the definition of mental health and mental illness. “Oftentimes I think people think of mental health as this bad stigmatized thing, when actually, all of us have mental health.”

The CDC defines mental health as: Our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

“Parents should be talking with their kids about ways to be healthy, not only mentally, but physically, socially, emotionally, I think the whole person approach is really important,” Kothrade said.

Starting the conversation with your child can be a difficult situation, but it is an important step to open the lines of communication. The Child Mind Institute offers support with tips on how to communicate with your child.

“Sometimes it's just a matter of checking in with your kids, asking them ‘how are you doing?’ or ‘how are you feeling?’ and really providing permission for our kids to come to us not only with the positive things in their lives, but the things that are stressful for them,” Kothrade said.

Listening, talking and having frequent conversations about how they are doing is another way parents can check in on their children, Kothrade added.

Kothrade said that parents or guardians may see their children at their ‘worst’ at home, approaching them with compassion is key to starting the conversation.

Parents can help navigate the mental health needs of their student by understanding the typical mood of their child, or knowing the indicators of depression. While outside resources are available to assist, there are steps parents can take to support their child.

“The most important thing is to find yourself in a place of calm and just being emotionally regulated so you can actually be in the moment with your child and not reactive,” Kothrade said. “Listening, asking your child to tell you more about how they are feeling, giving them permission and then validating their feelings.”

It is important to use encouraging language, letting your child know that they can trust you and that is ok to share their feelings.

Parents and guardians should also know that this year has been particularly hard on families, but there are resources available.

“This pandemic has really been hard on families and kids,” Kothrade said. “I just want to acknowledge that for parents, it’s already hard being a parent, but this pandemic has made it harder. In some ways it has been nice to spend additional time together, but it also has added some additional stressors that have really affected families emotionally, socially and even financially. One of my suggestions is for parents to believe in themselves and know that they are doing the best that they can and that it is ok to reach out for support.”

For more information on the school-based mental health program and resources, visit the district website.