Racine Unified School District marks Children's Mental Health Acceptance Week

NOW: Racine Unified School District marks Children’s Mental Health Acceptance Week

RACINE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- One hometown school district is concentrating on children's mental health.

May 8 to 12 is Children's Mental Health Acceptance Week. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, recent national surveys of young people have shown increases in the prevalence of specific mental health challenges. In 2019, one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an overall increase of 40 percent from the year 2009.

At Racine Unified School District (RUSD), this week is an opportunity to highlight students' needs when it comes to their mental health, while helping them understand those needs.

"What acceptance does is it allows us to take action, do something with that information," Racine Collaborative for Children's Mental Health Manager Julie Hueller said. "Also, it's a great opportunity to ask your child how they feel."

A simple, "How are you?" can open the door to helping students.

"We know right now that our kids are having some mental health concerns," Hueller said. "One in three youth report depression, and one in two report anxiety."

The district offers in-school mental health assistance in clinics where students can meet with licensed therapists from Children's Wisconsin.

"[The therapists] are able to help support that student not only with the families in the clinical setting but in the classroom setting to help our teachers," Hueller said.

RUSD has 9 in-school clinics, each with a full-time therapist on staff. This is just one way they tackle children's mental health, a topic Hueller tells CBS 58 that more and more students want to address.

"They really want to have those conversations. They're out there on social media, and it's being talked about, and they have more comfort than the parents," she said.

This week, students are encouraged to focus on self-care, accepting others and themselves, and positive affirmations to help their mental health.

"We want kids to know even though they're different, they're still kids," RUSD Director of Family and Community Engagement Felicia Howell said.

A resource fair organized by RUSD's Parent Leadership Network will bring together community organizations to increase acceptance of mental health’s importance, fight the stigmas associated with mental health and offer support.  

"We've often heard families say, 'Is it my fault my kids are struggling?' These resources are given to families so they can support those students, and then realize, it's not [their] fault," Howell said.

At the event, there will be activities and resources for adults and children, including youth yoga, massages, music, sensory experiences, and more. Pizza will also be provided. It will take place Tuesday, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Cesar Chavez Community Center in Racine.

RUSD also has a community mental health clinic in partnership with the Professional Services Group. The district offers a financial assistance program, "Access for All," to help families pay for the mental health counseling services provided at the school-based clinics. Families who are unable to pay high deductibles or have no insurance can apply for financial assistance.

To donate to "Access for All," visit the RUSD website. Additional resources for families can be found at racine.wi.networkofcare.org/family/.

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