Below is the extended version of “Stories of Impact: School-Based Mental Health,” which is featured in our 2021 Community Impact Report. Click here to view the report and find links to all of our Stories of Impact.
Trying to find the support Tiffany’s daughter needed in one place was “overwhelming.” Then one day, Tiffany saw an ad for VOA Alaska on Facebook. She clicked on it, went to the website, “and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is like everything I’ve been looking for.’”
Her daughter, Summer, is 15 and attends Bettye Davis East High School in Anchorage. She had been receiving mental health therapy for anxiety and depression for a few years before beginning services with VOA Alaska. Tiffany and Summer both liked the therapist, but “they just didn’t have all the services, and as a parent it gets overwhelming sometimes to try balancing medication and a psychiatrist and peer support and therapy.”
At VOA Alaska, Tiffany feels like “this is the one-stop shop, you get everything that you need for the parent, and for your youth.” She adds that it’s “breathing room” to know all these services are going to be offered to her family.
Summer’s Therapist is Just Down the Hall from her Classroom
But the cherry on top is that Summer’s therapist is one of VOA Alaska’s school-based mental health clinicians. It creates more opportunities for Summer to have the support she needs when she needs it, because her therapist’s office is where she’s already spending most of her day—at school!
“Maybe something happens during the day that she is stressed about or needs the outlet to really communicate,” Tiffany explains. “We don’t always have a time where something bad happens during the day and say, ‘Oh, it’s going to happen at two o’clock.’ You don’t know. And I really enjoy that she gets that opportunity [to see her therapist at school].”
Between all the services and the support team available to Summer, Tiffany says “VOA has offered the opportunity for her to get to know herself better.” She’s not only learning new skills and hobbies but learning how to be comfortable with those skills and hobbies. Like learning to play guitar, for instance.
Summer didn’t have a guitar, so the team helped her pay for one and get registered for lessons. The peer support team even drove her to those lessons!
“That was another huge relief for me,” Tiffany says. “Because I have two kids and trying to run them in different directions, it gets very chaotic. And you want to give your kids the best that you can. And sometimes as a parent, you don’t always have the opportunity to go everywhere at once.”
VOA’s Wrap-Around Support has been “Literally Life-Saving”
Tiffany can see first-hand how this wrap-round support and in-school therapy has helped her daughter overcome her mental health challenges. Summer used to be so nervous just talking to a cashier to order food. But now she’s “walking into Guitar Center, looking for something specific, and asking for it.”
In addition to managing her anxiety and depression, she’s also learning to deal with her anger. “That’s a new one we’re working on,” Tiffany explains, “so she’s learning some healthy ways of addressing and working with those emotions.” But already, there are “definitely better days and more smiles for sure. And more jokes, more sarcasm, which is fun to see too.”
For Tiffany, Summer, and their family, the support they’ve found at VOA Alaska “has been literally lifesaving.” When it comes to helping a child with depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation, “making those decisions between your finances or your kid is not easy.” And at VOA Alaska, Tiffany says “I don’t think I have ever felt that I’ve had to make that choice between one or the other.”
“I think that’s amazing that VOA can offer the whole package deal, a little bit of everything in one, at a great price, and willing to help people too [if cost becomes a barrier].”
“When it comes to depression or anxiety, those things are very scary for youth. It takes a team to help. We needed extra help, and that’s okay.”
A Reflection from Summer’s Team
The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but the effects are especially noticeable in schools where students have not only had to deal with the uncertainty and constant anxiety of living through a pandemic but were also expected to take on additional roles and responsibilities in their lives that they were too young for. Studying and attending online school during quarantine led to a loss of essential social interactions, relationships, and extra-curricular activities. However, being back to school in-person has made it evident that students are still experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety.
As a school based mental health clinician, my hope is to provide as much support and resources to students as possible, to not only help with metal health concerns like anxiety and depression but also connect them to other services and resources, such as peer support and psychiatric management, if required.
Working with Summer has opened my eyes to the resilience and courage our youth have in showing up every single day and taking on more than any teenager would normally need to pre-pandemic. I’ve noticed how these wraparound services have helped Summer gain confidence in herself and work towards building connections not only with others but herself as well.
– Parinita Shetty, School-Based Mental Health Clinician