With concerns about violence and bullying rising, school-based mental health services need to be part of the solution, counselors say. A nonprofit is helping.
They come to school wrestling with feelings of anxiety, grief and anger.
Sometimes it’s stress about schoolwork or social struggles, sometimes it’s about very adult problems such as a parent’s unemployment or family strife.
It all weighs heavily on students’ shoulders, and at times the stress comes out at school. That’s where one Anoka County nonprofit is lending a hand.
The Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health and Well-Being helps children cope with anxiety, anger, attention deficit, grief and other mental health issues. This school year, counselors with the center worked with 1,500 students in four districts: Fridley, Columbia Heights, Anoka-Hennepin and Centennial.
Using mostly small-group formats, counselors meet with children during the school day. The goal is to make mental health services easily accessible and free for families. The school districts contract with the nonprofit.
“What Lee Carlson did was really visionary. She got out of the ivory tower and stopped making [clients] come to them and instead went to them to provide the services,” said Paul Meunier, a former Lee Carlson psychotherapist and director of services for the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Association.
“The parents don’t necessarily have the resources to come in at 8 at night on a regular basis. They often have other kids. The mission was always to bring the services to the kids so other variables didn’t interfere with them getting help.”
With the national conversation about bullying and school violence intensifying, mental health services need to be part of the dialogue, counselors say.
It isn’t just about the extreme cases. Nationally, one in five children has a diagnosable mental illness, yet fewer than 20 percent of those who need help are identified and receive mental health services, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study.
Parents, often overwhelmed with providing basic needs, don’t have the resources to address emerging mental health issues. School therapy helps fill that gap.
“I believe we’ve saved so many lives. I’ve seen it firsthand,” said Shari Barmash, school group facilitator with Lee Carlson Center who counsels elementary and middle-school children in Columbia Heights schools.
The district, partnering with Lee Carlson, provides some in-school counseling services for about 10 percent of its 3,000 students — 104 elementary students, 163 middle schoolers and 36 high school students.
“I have worked in three districts prior to this one. I have seen this done in other places, but not as globally as it’s done here,” said Karen Hamann, a psychologist with the district.
“I believe it gives them a place to go every week and a person to trust. They share the things going on in their lives. It’s anger management, stress reduction and coping skills. It helps them get back to the classroom a little more ready to learn.”
The origin of the nonprofit lies in one Anoka County woman with an intimate knowledge of the challenges of mental illness.
Lee Carlson was raised by a mother who struggled with mental illness. As an adult, Carlson, a registered nurse, worried about the next generation of children.