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Ten Years Of Better Mental Health

This year, CHRISTUS School Clinics is celebrating a 10-year partnership with Catholic Charities counseling. In 2013, the School Clinics medical assistants were seeing a number of illnesses that were directly related to mental health issues. “There was nothing medical going on,” Jenifer Santos, a Catholic Charities school counselor, said. “That’s how we were able to come into the schools.”

The program has grown in scope over the last 10 years. “Originally, we started with individual therapy and class presentations on mental health topics. Today, we also work with teachers on training them to identify symptoms.”

One strategy that has been very successful for classrooms has been the calming corners. “At the beginning of the school year, we focus on training the teachers on calming corners. These designated areas in the classroom are not for the traditional time out, but a true space for the students to calm down.” According to Santos, the schools that have implemented them have seen great success. “Teachers have seen positive changes in the students.”

In addition to working with students and teachers, the counselors also take time to educate parents. One workshop they have already offered this year is on youth suicide prevention. “It’s been great to remove that stigma of mental health services. It’s okay to get help if your child needs help.”

The Pandemic has made the need for mental health services in the schools that much more imperative. “Whatever was present prior to COVID was brought more to life,” Santos said. “If a student already struggled with anxiety, then COVID just exacerbated it.”

For individual sessions with the school counselor, parents also play a major role in the treatment. “Parents must provide consent for services and attend the first appointment. It says to us that I’m trying to get my child help, which is a huge first step for parents.”

One of Santos’ recent patients witnessed a fatal car accident and was struggling with the aftermath of it. Together they worked through her trauma. “When I saw her at school recently, she came up to me and said ‘Thank you for helping my heart.’”

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