RACINE — It seems everyone is talking about mental health right now. And in the eyes of Leah Featherstone, that’s one of the bright spots peeking out from beneath the shadow of COVID-19.
Featherstone is the clinical administrator for Professionals Services Group, which runs a community mental health clinic in collaboration with Racine Unified School District at 2333 Northwestern Ave.
“Our mental health is just as important if not more important than our physical health and we have to pay attention to that, whether that’s as families, as school districts, as businesses,” Featherstone said. “We have to pay attention and be concerned about the mental health of our people: Of our kids, of our parents, of our teachers of our families.”
Amid the pandemic, the clinic's patients are dealing with increased anxiety due to the uncertainty of the situation as well as issues with depression since many people are feeling isolated, Featherstone said.
Even those who had good control of their mental health prior to the pandemic might be struggling without access to their normal coping mechanisms, and those who were having a difficult time already might be faring even worse.
“The tools that we have developed for ourselves to manage that mental health, we no longer have access to,” Featherstone said.
These might include going to the gym, getting a pedicure, going to the movies or spending time with friends.
“You either have to pivot pretty quickly and find different things to do to give you the same effect or your mental health suffers significantly,” she said.
Resources for families
During the closure of schools, the community-based health clinic run by PSG and the district’s school-based mental health clinics run by Children’s Wisconsin are open for virtual appointments. The clinics are still seeing their regular students and families and are taking on additional patients as well.
The community-based clinic is open to the entire community, not just Racine Unified students.
For patients who don’t have access to technology, therapists make phone calls instead.
“We’re doing as much as we can with as many kids as we can,” said Andrea Rittgers, Racine Unified’s director of student services.
For students it has not been able to reach, the district shares contact information with Racine County’s new “Here to Help” program, which aims to help families facing barriers to services due to the public health emergency.
Featherstone advises anyone who feels out of control and unable to manage their emotions to consider seeking the help of a therapist.
Advice for coping
Rittgers advises that students utilize mindfulness practices to help them cope during this difficult time. The district began incorporating these practices into the school day for grades K-8 at the beginning of the school year. Students can use the same Inner Explorer app at home that they began using at school to guide them through mindfulness practices.
More tips for bolstering student mental health during the pandemic:
• Go for a walk
• Connect with others via video chat
• Go on a virtual field trip
• Do a YouTube yoga workout
• Stay hydrated
“Kids just want to spend time with you,” Featherstone said.
That might mean a family board game night or just reading together.
Julie Hueller, manager of the Racine Collaborative for Children's Mental Health, reminds parents who have experienced a little too much togetherness that it’s okay to set aside 15 minutes for themselves and ask not to be disturbed during that time.
Lisa Lequia, Unified’s assistant director of student services, advises parents and teachers to make days as predictable as possible, and to prepare children for any big changes in daily routines. She also advocates that families promote positivity in their homes, by practicing gratitude for the things they have to be thankful for right now to protect themselves from being overwhelmed by negativity.
For Racine Unified staff, one positive that has come out of the school shutdown is more time to dig into practices the district has been promoting for its teacher, like compassion resilience — or the ability to maintain your own mental health while responding compassionately to the struggles of others. One teacher who took advantage of the district’s training offerings in compassion resilience told Lequia, "Taking time to take care of myself is easier than I thought."
Now that many are talking about the importance of mental health, Hueller hopes the stigma attached to mental health issues will fade as families begin to talk openly about their emotions and struggles.
Anyone in the community looking for local mental health resources can go online to racine.wi.networkofcare.org/family/ for help and to find a service provider.
To contact the PSG community clinic, call 262-638-2000.
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