Free Classes to Help with Emotional, Behavioral Difficulties

Holli Seehafer

    Officials with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, South Dakota, (NAMI) are working with a core group of Grant County volunteers to present a free series of classes geared toward parents, grandparents, and caregivers of children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral difficulties.
    The classes, called NAMI Basics, include six sessions that will be led by a team of local volunteers who have been trained through the NAMI program. The classes begin on Wednesday, October 16, and those who plan to attend must contact Tamra Peschong at 605-949-0873. The time and location of the meetings will be revealed to those who register, in an attempt to help maintain privacy for those who participate.
    “With the growing mental health needs, we felt there was a real need to bring new resources to Milbank,” commented Heidi Wellnitz, a counselor with the Milbank School District. “By working with NAMI, we are able to piggyback off of things that are working in slightly larger communities in the northeast part of the state.”
    In February of 2017, Peschong, who has a child who has a mental health condition, attended a NAMI class in Watertown, where she says she learned a lot and found a solid support system for parents like herself.
    Since then, Peschong completed the training, along with five other Grant County residents, so they are able to facilitate classes and help others. “As peer-led classes, you can be assured that we’ve been in your shoes. We know what you are going through,” Peschong said.
    The classes will be staged once per week for six weeks, and those who register will be asked to commit to attending every class.
    “The classes will provide resources for families, but also will help people identify what behavior is a crisis and how to act and react to it,” Wellnitz said. “It will also help them learn how to navigate the systems that are in place and how to advocate for themselves.”
    “But it also lets them know ‘you are not alone,’ and that might be the most important part,” Peschong added.
    The class topics over the six-week course include an introduction to mental health conditions; an overview of brian biology and getting a diagnosis; treatment options; communication skills and crisis preparation; navigating mental health, school and juvenile justice systems, and advocacy, self-care and evaluation.
    “There have been huge increases in mental health disorders, nationally, statewide and locally,” Wellnitz said. “I’ve been a counselor for 13 years, and my job has drastically changed.” Locally, Wellnitz indicated that she sees youth who lack coping skills and an increased number of students asking for help. Statewide and nationally, she said suicide numbers are skyrocketing.
    “We are seeing it earlier, in younger kids,” Wellnitz said. “There’s an increase in the number of students with anxiety, for example.” Wellnitz hopes that is a reflection of more parents getting help for the kids. “It’s so important that we let kids know that it’s alright to ask for help,” Wellnitz said.
    “Sometimes people don’t realize that it’s a mental health issue whether it gets diagnosed or not,” Peschong added.
    The two compare mental health issues to common diseases. “If you thought your child had strep throat, you wouldn’t just wait and hope he gets over it. You’d take him to the doctor,” Wellnitz said. “We need to start looking at mental health in the same way.”
    Another social problem that Peschong points out is, “Mental illness isn’t a ‘casserole disease,’ meaning, your friends and neighbors don’t show up to help. They don’t know what to do.”
    Peschong is part of a loosely-knit local group called Moving to Wellness in Milbank. It can be found on Facebook or by contacting Peschong. With support from NAMI, that group recently hosted a mindfulness event that was open to the public. The members plan to try to host free mental health opportunities in the community every other month.
    NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. The group’s dedicated volunteer members and leaders work to raise awareness and provide education, advocacy and support group programs.
    According to NAMI, many children exhibit challenging behaviors, yet not all of these will develop into a mental health challenge for them. The data estimates that 50 percent of all lifetime mental illnesses begin before age 14; 75 percent, before age 24. Early intervention in addressing the issues can make a difference to that child for the rest of their lives.
    The NAMI Basics series helps parents learn about mental health conditions and gives them tools to work with healthcare providers and school staff so that they can become the best advocates for their children.
~Holli Seehafer


Grant County Review

Grant County Review
P.O. Box 390
Milbank, SD 57252
(605) 432-4516

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