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Chosen Families, Reunite!

Posted on by Kim Davis

Pride Month: June 2021
John Schaller, MS, NCC, LPC

June is Pride Month, a month to celebrate and support LGBTQ people and their allies. Pride Month 2021 also coincides with the beginning of our nation’s re-emergence from the pandemic. That’s why this year’s Pride Month will have a very special meaning for people who’ve been separated from their chosen families for more than a year. Many LGBTQ people rely on non-biological family love and support, or chosen families, especially if they have been alienated or ostracized from their families of origin. When the lockdown began, the only socially acceptable visits were between related family members, which added a layer of trauma for people who do not find warmth and acceptance in these circles. Even supportive community groups like gay-straight alliances shut down or went virtual. As we reintegrate with society, it is more important than ever for LGBTQ people to celebrate Pride Month with people who celebrate them. “We at Samaritan see you, we hear you, and we are here for you!” ■

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THRIVE Calumet

Posted on by Kim Davis

THRIVE Calumet School-Based Screenings and Counseling Services launches

A coalition of five Calumet County school districts will begin to offer school-based mental health screening and counseling services this spring thanks to a $231,544 grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership within the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region supported by the U.S. Venture Fund, the J.J. Keller Foundation, and other community partners. The implementation of the program in the Chilton School District will also be supported by a $2,500 grant from the Ruth Bolz Memorial Fund and a $7,500 grant from the Chilton Area Community Foundation Fund, both funds within the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region. These grants will fund THRIVE Calumet, a collaboration to provide on-site mental health services in Brillion, Chilton, Hilbert, New Holstein, and Stockbridge school districts in partnership with Samaritan.

“THRIVE Calumet will build on services currently offered through Calumet Medical Center in Chilton and Calumet County,” said Elizabeth Langteau, Cooperative Education Service Agency 6 (CESA 6), and co-director of Allies in Mental Health Education. CESAs in Wisconsin make it possible for schools, regardless of size, to share resources and extend educational opportunities to all children throughout the state. Langteau helped bring together district and community leaders in 2020 to form THRIVE Calumet to address unmet needs through assessments and community conversation.

In this pilot phase, THRIVE Calumet will bring Samaritan’s Wellness Screening to one grade in each district. A total of 480 students will participate in screening this spring. Students complete a confidential online questionnaire that asks data-driven, evidence-based questions about their mental health. If the screening identifies a mental health concern, the student will have a confidential follow-up conversation with a screening staff member and parents/guardians can receive a referral to an area mental health provider. For younger children, the screening is given to parents/guardians who are asked questions about their children’s behaviors and emotions.

The Calumet County program is the first of its kind for Samaritan because it goes beyond making referrals after the screenings to also providing mental health services in the communities it serves. Students and families can also access clinical services directly, without going through the screening process. All screening information is kept confidential; only overall statistics on program participation are shared with school staff.

The most recent Calumet County Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019 reported over half (53%) of students responded “yes” to any one of six mental health questions about whether in the past year they were so sad or hopeless that they stopped their usual activities or they seriously considered, planned, or attempted suicide. “Emerging research suggests the effects of the pandemic on mental health will have long-reaching implications, particularly for youth with existing mental illness,” said Jen Parsons, Connected Community Wellness Screen Program Director at Samaritan. “Marijuana use, depression, and suicide were growing issues even before the pandemic, and now we are very concerned about the prolonged social isolation and trauma young people are experiencing.”

Early intervention helps with greater school readiness, academic success, less grade retention or special education, and reduced welfare dependency. “If mental illness is untreated, children can experience crippling long-lasting effects like dropping out of school, incarceration, teen pregnancy, poor employment opportunities, poverty, and future dependence on assistance programs,” Parsons said. “School-based programs are proven to be cost-effective and very good at removing barriers to care.”

Jennifer Konen, student support specialist and mental health coordinator for the Hilbert School District, said she rejoiced when she heard about the grant. “This does wonders to remove barriers to mental health care for our students and their families. They no longer have to worry about transportation, financial, or language barriers, or missing work to get to their appointments.”

Doug Olig, principal of New Holstein High School, acknowledged the special role of schools as community centers in small, close-knit communities. “When problems arise, people look to us help solve them. That’s what this program does,” he said. “THRIVE will also help us educate community members about the importance of mental health, and that there is no shame in asking for help.”

Samaritan will provide on-site and/or virtual mental health, substance abuse, and bilingual counseling (Spanish and English) services to students, families, and staff, regardless of their ability to pay. In the future, the coalition plans to offer mental health services to any member of the community from its base within the schools. These services will complement those provided by Calumet Medical Center and the Calumet County Behavioral Health Unit.

“We aspire to further cultivate a culture of mental health in Calumet County,” said Dr. Tracy Siebers, Samaritan Clinical Director. “The funding from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership allows us to have these conversations and directly follow up with assessments and mental health services that families need and deserve. This collaboration shows what can happen when people bring their individual gifts together so entire communities can thrive.”

Samaritan’s mission is to connect mind, body, and spirit so individuals, families, organizations, and communities thrive. They have been providing behavioral health services in the Fox Valley for over 50 years. Samaritan established the wellness screen program for school-aged young people in 2012 after a series of tragic youth suicides in the Fox Cities. Wellness Screen teams currently work in 10 Northeast Wisconsin school districts at 56 sites. Corporations, foundations, or individuals interested in investing in THRIVE Calumet can contact Jane Frantz, development director at Samaritan, [email protected], or 920-886-9319 ext. 110.

Learn more about THRIVE Calumet from our press conference coverage from these local television stations:

Fox11 News  |  Calumet County offering mental health services for students  Click Here
WBAY  |  Calumet County schools team up to help improve community mental health  Click Here
NBC26  |  THRIVE Calumet: New mental health service launching in local schools  Click Here

Listen Here to learn more about the THRIVE program on WHBY Focus Fox Valley

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When Anxiety Leads to Suicidality

Posted on by Kim Davis

Catching and Challenging Automatic Anxious Thoughts Can Stop a Downward Spiral
Elysabeth Meehan, LCSW, Samaritan

For a long time, now, people have spoken of the connection between depression and its potential lead-up to thoughts of suicide. Depression is an overwhelming sense of sadness and doom. A person with depression can’t see the sun through the clouds, feels stuck, and loses hope.

In these pandemic times, it’s time to talk about anxiety and its potential to lead to suicidality. People with life-altering anxiety feel a distinct loss of control in their lives and thought patterns. My clients tell me, “I can’t get ahold of anything solid, I can’t regain my footing, and nothing is calm or still.” They often get stuck in a cycle of wondering what else can go wrong, and this sense of doom and gloom can lead to thoughts of suicide.

Picture an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. When anxiety reaches a point where a person doesn’t know what to do or how to bring it down, one of their thoughts for regaining control may be to shatter that thermometer, to end their life. In fact, people who inflict self-harm, like cutting, are in so much emotional pain, these actions serve to distract them, to help them feel something else— anything else. (Self-harm is also closely correlated to suicidality.) I call these drastic life-shattering measures “flipping the table,” and my job is to help my clients find ways to do this in a helpful and healthy way, instead.

There are four kinds of escape and avoidance behaviors for someone suffering from anxiety. The goal is to distract your anxious mind so you can start to reengage with your logical mind. Choose the level that coincides with the level of anxiety you are experiencing to bring down that mercury.

– Level One: Choose a relaxing behavior, like having a snack or taking a walk in nature
– Level Two: Choose a purposeful activity like listening to bilateral music, so named because it helps to recalibrate the two parts of your brain (two sides=bilateral). For most people, it’s easiest to access bilateral music on YouTube. If possible, wear headphones when you listen because the music intentionally “pings” in your left and right ears.
– Level Three: Use two skills at once, like walking while listening to bilateral music or running and listening to loud exercise music.
– Level Four: Set a timer for 20 minutes. Run, or blast music, or plunge your hands into ice water for 20 minutes. Double up on these techniques if you can, as in ice water plus loud music. Some people swear by eating a cold popsicle in a hot shower, as the contrasting temperatures serve to “flip the table.”

A person who can lower the thermometer on their anxiety experience can then learn to sit with their strong emotions, call their feelings what they are (instead of what-if thoughts), and feel all those feelings. Then they ask themselves, “Where is this coming from?” By catching and challenging automatic anxious thoughts, we can stop them from sending us into a downward spiral. The next step is to learn about cognitive behavioral therapy , or CBT, to help restructure thoughts in a healthy way to challenge distorted or unhelpful thinking. Another helpful approach is dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, which teaches people to live in the moment, cope with stress in a healthy way, and regulate emotions. Often, both CBT and DBT help people with anxiety, and we offer both at Samaritan.

Feelings of exacerbated anxiety are new for lots of people amidst COVID-19 because many of their normal distractions for their low-level anxiety have evaporated during lockdown. My colleagues and I see an increase in clients who are seeking help to manage their anxiety for the first time, and we are so happy they are. The tools people learn will make their lives better far into the future. We offer hope and help.

Strength is Within You, Around You

A Tool for Building Resilience for Difficult Times
Wendy Neyhard, MS, Wellness Screen Learning and Development Specialist, a program of Samaritan

Sources of Strength is an evidenced-based wellness program that focuses on suicide prevention and also impacts issues of substance abuse and violence. Sources of Strength is most often implemented as a school-based program in middle school, high school, or college. However, it is also used in community, faith-based, and cultural settings to promote connectivity and help-seeking behaviors.

Schools right here in northeast Wisconsin have embraced the program because it truly helps young people assess and develop strengths in their own lives, a skill that can transform a person’s life journey. Over time, one’s outlook on life—or the culture of an entire school or family—shifts its perspective to what strengths one has versus what one does not have. Young people in the program lead the development of strengths-based messaging campaigns. This helps make it approachable and accessible, no matter one’s interests or life experiences. The students and adult advisors guide young people to consider the mental, spiritual, and emotional resources they can access when times get tough. For example, a person might turn to medical care, family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, and/or spirituality. These concepts are explored through discussion, practice, and activities as part of the campaigns.
As we make plans, it is important to check in with ourselves and see how we are feeling. Many traditions will not be the same this year. It is normal and okay to feel upset, sad, fearful, disappointed, and even frustrated that the pandemic continues to impact our everyday lives and holiday traditions. It is not a sign of weakness have these feelings. Your mind is processing the uncertainty and difficult decisions you face in the coming months. Acknowledge these feelings and understand that they are valid. Process them openly with friends and family to help accept the reality of this season and this time in history.

It is easy to get caught up in the things we can’t do this year. Help change your mindset by focusing on what is still possible. Many traditions can continue regardless of our circumstances. Sending holiday cards, decorating, shopping, baking, and going to light shows are still possible. However, you will need to shift large gatherings to smaller ones, or connect with one another virtually. Take time to try new ideas. Who knows? A virtual family meal, online ugly sweater contest, ornament swap in the mail, or name-that-holiday-tune may just stick and become part of your family lore for the long haul.

Your calendar may also be more open this year. Take time to slow down. Challenge yourself to be comfortable with an unstructured schedule. Focus on how you have the opportunity to feel more present and peaceful. One lesson we’ve learned in this pandemic is to seek joy in unexpected or overlooked places.

In the beforetimes, Sources programming took place in-person and on-site at schools and other gathering places. Since then, COVID-19 has motivated the qualified staff at Sources of Strength to create tools to bring Sources into homes so that young people and their families can practice these lessons in resilience on a daily basis. Please click on the link to use the At-Home Checklist to start a daily Sources practice. Here are my tips for making the most of this powerful opportunity:

  • When a machine is paused, it stops. When each of us pauses, we begin. Isn’t that amazing? Take time each day to pause and reflect on what you have in your life that can help pull you through difficult days. You will cultivate an attitude of hope, help, and strength.
  • Invest in building your protective factors, AKA Sources of Strength. If you don’t have positive friends, set a goal to make some. If your biological family isn’t as supportive as you wish, then look to positive, caring mentors for support, too. These investments will positively impact your life well into the future because you will learn to trust yourself and your ability to overcome.
  • Some people are surprised when life knocks them down. It’s hard to feel vulnerable in the big wide world. Know that every person is going to experience difficulties over the course of their lives. You, too, can cultivate resilience. Be intentional. Lean on your strengths. ■

Calming the Storm

Becky Stellmacher, Guest Blogger, Former Samaritan Therapist

When an infant is upset, a parent can often soothe him or her. When a child or teen needs calming, a parent can help by teaching him or her how to self soothe. It is important to remember that whatever sensory stimulation soothed a child or adolescent as an infant most likely will be soothing to him or her now.
Here are some ideas:

Sight – What he or she sees impacts your child. It may incite excitement, create fear, or promote violence. Encourage your child to really look at nature in your yard or during a walk and encourage your child to look at the moon and the stars during these early fall evenings. Be cognizant of what your child is viewing on his/her tablet, phone, or computer.

Sound – Play soothing or joyful music. Create a playlist on Spotify with music your child finds calming. The Spotify app is free with ads – many fewer ads than the radio. You can create and play specific playlists. Create a playlist with your child to listen to when they are upset. Some children who have trouble going to sleep may benefit from listening to the same calming music each night before drifting off. While music can be soothing, remember it can also be invigorating or disruptive. Ask your teens to share what they listen to and talk about when/why they listen to it. Be curious. As much as possible, promote music with a calming, positive or empowering message – especially before sleep.

Smell – Aromatherapy can be effective for self-soothing. Per those who use aromatherapy, different scents evoke different responses. Vanilla is calming for some. Peppermint is reported to be invigorating. Lavender is purported to promote sleep. Is there a scent your child finds soothing?

Touch – Many babies calm with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. This is often because of how it feels.  Comfy clothing, a favorite blanket or a chair a child loves to sit in may provide soothing because of the tactile sensation it provides.

Taste – Many young people as well as adults find certain foods comforting. Food can help soothe your child. However, as many children and adolescents find solace in sweets, moderation is recommended J.

Motion can also be beneficial. Rocking, swinging, jumping on a trampoline, going for a walk or jog, and riding a bike are all things that some young people find soothing. Engaging in the activity with your child may also soothe you. J

These two techniques are classics which some kids may have been introduced to at school.

Smell the Flower/Blow Out the Candle: Smell a flower on the inhale, and then blow out a candle on the exhale. Pretend to hold a flower to your nose as you “smell the flower,” then put your pointer finger to your mouth as you “blow out the candle.”

Square Breathing: Parents can coach your kids on this one. Standing in front of the child, draw a square with your pointer finger while speaking/counting: “Breathe in 2, 3, 4” as you draw the top of the square, “Hold 2, 3, 4” as you draw the first side of the square, “Breathe out 2, 3, 4” as you draw the bottom of the square, “Relax 2, 3, 4” as you complete the last side of the square. Repeat multiple times.

Reminder: There are multiple YouTube videos that demonstrate different breathing techniques for kids and you might find one that works better than either of these for your child. PLEASE remember that kids will likely use breathing techniques if they see their parents use them when upset, or if their parents coach them in breathing practice and use them when the child is upset.

This is beneficial for most people, but especially for anxious kids: Talk with your child without TV, music, computer, phone or other distractions, focusing on them, listening empathically to them, not providing solutions or trying to “fix anything.”  Doing this for 15 minutes a day, before bed, is often beneficial for an anxious child or teen.

Note: Parents of young people of any age may provide ideas for minimizing worry but should not tell their child to “Just stop worrying” as that tends to end communication. Parent should always ask if there’s any way they can help and remind the young person they are loved and that the parent will always be there to keep them safe and provide support.

General thoughts/recommendations for parents:

  1. Remember this is a scary time for everyone. Remind kids that you care for them and will keep them safe, as will other adults in charge of them. Discuss this regularly. Remind your child often if he or she is anxious. Remind them who keeps them safe in school or when in childcare. Children need to know who trusted adults are and be able to identify those people in their lives.
  2. Be cautious of what you say in front of children. Children, of all ages, listen to adults ALWAYS, even when the adults think they are busy doing something else or “won’t know” what the adults are talking about. However, while a child may or may not be able to process what is said he or she will sense the adult’s concern or fear. Before sharing information with a child, parents should ask themselves, “Is this an adult issue or a kid issue?” It’s best to err on the side of caution, and then share accordingly, avoiding most adult topics. If a parent chooses to share, he or she should remember the child’s age and level of understanding. Simple is better when explaining most things to young children. A reminder: Bright children, who understand many above age/grade level things, may become exponentially more concerned and/or anxious when information about the coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, or current politics is shared or overheard as they often ruminate on the potential implications.
  3. Remember in this, or any situation really, there are facts and feelings. The facts will not change, but feelings are ever changing. Kids and parents often benefit from the reminder that feelings can’t change facts. Working with children to figure out which things are facts and which are feelings may be helpful during the pandemic, but will also be beneficial for young people in the future. Parents may choose to address the facts in any situation, but should always do their best to validate their child’s feelings in EVERY situation.

One Last Suggestion for Parents
Spend time with your child or teen alone each week. Allow them to choose an activity – within reason. Do NOT engage in a required activity, i.e. not homework, a lesson, practice, etc. Do something recreational together – a game, craft or outdoor activity. Make the time child-oriented, remembering you don’t need to go anywhere or spend money to enjoy time with each other. Your goal is to engage with your child in high quality interaction. Do not discuss behavior issues or other parent concerns when together. Have some fun and enjoy being with your  child or teen!

Paraphrased from:  Taylor, J.  (2019). High-Impact Strategies to Reduce Chronic Misbehavior.  Presentation,  Appleton, WI

For more information during the pandemic (or any other time J)
https://www.heysigmund.com/ – General information with a focus on parenting anxious children or teens

https://www.additudemag.com/ – Info about all attention issues with loads of information including tips for teaching your child at home – which may be beneficial whether your child has attention issues or not

Note: These sites have info for all ages and life stages.

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Posted on by Kim Davis

Becky Stellmacher, MSE, MS, LPC, Child and Adolescent Counselor, SCC

Writing for the this blog post began during the COVID-19 pandemic. We discussed writing about the Week of the Young Child (April 11-17) to share ideas about how to enrich our relationships with the young people in our lives. As conditions have shifted, we now know that we be spending much more time at home with our family members, and not only do we need to tend to the needs of young people, we also need to care for our family units. Close quarters, crumbs on the counter, new schedules, sadness over lost social connections, and financial and health worries will cause new stressors at home. I encourage you to try some of these activities:

Music Monday – Yes, have a dance party, sing together, or create a musical instrument with recycled materials. Also use your phone or speaker device to be a DJ. Play songs from your youth during the time it takes to wash the family dishes. Teach young children how to help with these chores. In the meantime, tell stories about your fashion, hairstyles, and taste in music when you were younger. You will make memories—and household helpers.

Tasty Tuesday – Create a healthy snack, make a meal together, or bake cookies as a team. Take it an extra step and plant seeds in small pots and put them in a sunny window. Remember putting toothpicks in a potato to support it in a glass of water and waiting for it to sprout? What else can you grow together? Look for teaching videos online made for young, curious minds.

Work Together Wednesday – Create a Lego or block structure, make a fort with cushions or blankets, or reorganize toys together. Encourage kids to fill their forts with stuffed animals and books for some cozy reading time. Consider rearranging the furniture in your child’s room with their input. This is certainly a time for a new outlook on life!

Artsy Thursday – Make art together, then string yarn or rope across a wall or window and use clothespins to hang the new creations. Consider making post-card size masterpieces and addressing them to friends and family via the USPS. Teach your children to become letterwriters and pen pals, a lost art for sure.

Family Friday –Board games, walks, or playing outside are all engaging activities. It’s the perfect time of year to play in the mud, so be prepared to insist that shoes come off at the door! Listen for
different bird songs, watch the progress of sprouting tulip bulbs, and find animal shapes in the clouds. Nature is still “open for business,” and is timeless in its ability to soothe the anxious soul.

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21 Years at Samaritan: Megan Burdick-Grade, You Are Awesome!

This month we honor our colleague and friend, Megan Burdick-Grade, MA, LMFT, WATR-BC, a gifted licensed marriage and family therapist and a Wisconsin-licensed and nationally board certified art therapist who celebrates 21 years on staff at Samaritan in 2020. Megan started her working life as an art teacher and came to understand the healing effects of art and creativity. After learning about the field of art therapy, she adjusted her sails and earned dual master’s degrees in art therapy and marriage and family therapy. She relocated to Wisconsin with her husband and came to work at Samaritan in 1999.

Megan is a mentor and leader at Samaritan. She is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR), a healing resource that supports clients healing from trauma. She supervises clinicians in training to provide trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) through the TF-CBT Learning Collaborative which is a part of the larger Wisconsin Trauma Project at the Department of Children and Families. TF-CBT is an evidence-based therapy for children age 6 to 18 that includes elements of storytelling and resource-building.

“I believe in Samaritan because we are open and accepting to people of all faiths and spiritual practices, regardless of their ability to pay,” Megan said, “and I love that I can work with people of all ages.” Megan works with children, adolescents, families, and adults at our Menasha office with a variety of mental health concerns including behavioral issues, parenting, bipolar disorder, abuse, pain management, trauma, relationships, and marriage issues. Contact Samaritan to learn more or call 920.886.9319 to request an appointment with Megan or one of her colleagues.

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When Teen Dating is Troublesome

When Teen Dating is Troublesome
Helping Young People Discover Healthy Dating Relationships

By John Schaller, MS, NCC, LPC, Samaritan

The internet is having powerful effects on the ways teens date and/or engage in romantic relationships. In my practice as a counselor, I work with young people to set personal boundaries, recognize healthy relationships, and build coping strategies for modern-day pressures. Here is some of what I see in my practice:

There is intense pressure to engage in sexting. Young people are pressured to send naked pictures of themselves or other sexual content over the internet to their romantic partners. The real-time nature of the internet especially manipulates the emotions of teens, many of whom are still controlled by impulses and motivated by the need for instant gratification and validation by others. If young people do not have models of healthy relationships in their lives, or validation from other family members, they are more likely to “do anything” to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend instead of setting personal boundaries that command the respect they deserve.

We need to talk about real love. When young people are raised in a social climate where marriages, sibling relationships and friendships have been irreparably broken, they don’t have a concept of what real, committed love is. They have to learn not all love relationships are doomed to end, and that holding fast to one’s self-respect helps them sort good from bad—and increase one’s chances of finding a healthy long-term love relationship. Remember the rush of emotions when you started dating? Simply the newness of dating can leave any young person perplexed about what good relationships should look like!

Social media is a master manipulator. Social media has exponentially expanded the pressure on young people to go along with otherwise poor dating behaviors. In the past, kids might have passed notes or spread gossip about a certain individual, couple, or relationship scandal. Now the accused are tagged by name in posts and hundreds of people can see (and share) the message in mere seconds. The power to manipulate a young person into making a damaging decision—whether it’s sexting, staying in an abusive or controlling relationship, or placing themselves in a situation that is flat-out uncomfortable—can go unchecked unless a young person receives healthy guidance from parents or other trusted adults. The choices they make now, even in the midst of intense pressure, will still be there on the internet—or in the emotional wounds they carry—long after they’ve grown and matured into the next stage of life. As a therapist, I work with clients and families to respond to these pressures in a way that honors a young person’s dignity and worth.

To learn more about healthy dating relationships, I recommend 50 Characteristics of Healthy Relationships by Alice Boyes, Ph.D. If you or someone you love needs help to learn how to establish healthy dating relationships, call Samaritan. We are here to help.

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