Mental health programs partner with Anchorage School District to provide more resources for students

Mental health programs partner with Anchorage School District
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:00 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Volunteers of America Alaska and Providence Behavioral Health have partnered up with the Anchorage School District on a mission to provide further mental health services to students and break the stigma surrounding mental health.

“By doing school-based services, we’re recognizing, hey, just like someone goes and sees the school nurse, you know, it can be really healthy and helpful for young people to see a counselor as well,” said Jackie Wallen, the school-based program manager for Volunteers of America Alaska.

The organization is aiding the school district by providing additional counseling for students. Discussions, according to Wallen, can be centered on any topic such as depression, anxiety or body image. Furthermore, they are also hosting classroom activities centered around building healthy coping mechanisms. Organizers say having these types of programs are critical as youth mental health programs across the U.S. and Alaska continue to skyrocket.

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaska’s youth suicide rate is 3.2 % higher then the national average. Additionally, while suicide deaths among young Alaskans went down in 2020, attempts rose. Wallen said many of the resources students may have turned to prior to the COVID-19 pandemic have been canceled or limited due to complications of the virus.

“We’re seeing they don’t have these healthy coping skills that are kind of naturally occurring in school environments or in community environments,” Wallen said. “Again, back to playing sports or doing music classes.”

Since the start of the program in the beginning of the year, Volunteers of America Alaska said they have already seen a significant impact. According to Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School officials, they have already seen improvement in school attendance and grades. Additionally, Wallen said that students have praised the program as well.

“We also had several students who have told our clinicians that, you know, ‘Hey, I was contemplating suicide,’ or ‘I have left like ending my life’, or you know, ‘I’m feeling very helpless and lost,’” Wallen said. “And so we’ve been able to not only help that student but then rally the supports around them.”

According to the organization, they are working with all age groups, from elementary school to high school. They said having an early action approach to mental health can build lifelong healthy skills.

“I’m working at high school,” said Parinita Shetty, the school-based services leader at East High. “I hope that someday I will have less, you know, intense ... less trauma to deal with because they were, you know, helped when they were much younger.”

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