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Supporting Mental Health Together

By Mollie and Candace | Published: May 18, 2022

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As many of you know, on October 19, 2021, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) declared a national emergency in children’s mental health. Rates of childhood mental health concerns have been rising for the past decade and the physical isolation, uncertainty, fear and grief associated with the pandemic have exacerbated this trend. 

According to statistics on adolescent mental health released by the Centers for Disease Control in March, more than a third of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic; nearly half of students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless. Two-thirds of students said they struggled with schoolwork, while nearly 20% said they had seriously contemplated suicide in the past year. From hardships like hunger and physical or emotional abuse, to experiences of racism/discrimination, school disruptions, losing a paying job or feeling less connected to others, students across the U.S. have faced significant—and often different—challenges this past year. 

At Concordia Language Villages, we understand this. In our own health centers, we have seen increases in mental health issues this past decade and we know as a camp, and as parents ourselves, how challenging these issues can be, whether they show up as sadness, an inability to focus, risk-taking behavior or in some other way. We also know that school and camp-based interventions can make a big difference for individuals and in addressing this crisis.  

We are committed to creating a mental health-aware camp environment, and this means both anticipating our campers’ needs for extra support and creating opportunities for healthy connection and engagement where we can. Research indicates that:

  • Spending time in nature has been linked to cognitive benefits and emotional well-being;
  • Destigmatizing issues of mental health by promoting self-awareness, social awareness and responsible decision-making can help to empower young people to be kind to themselves, seek help when needed and learn to support one another; 
  • Access to trained counselors and mental health professionals who are there to relate can create yet another strong layer in building an alliance of support; 
  • Youth who feel cared for in the spaces they frequent and who experience a sense of connectedness and belonging are 66% less likely to experience health risk behaviors related to sexual health, substance use, violence and mental health issues in adulthood.

This summer at the Villages, in alignment with the CLVway (our guiding teaching philosophy) and the COVID protocol currently in place, we will be spending a great deal of time outdoors, with access to those blue and green spaces that can be so grounding emotionally. Never underestimate the calming power of a cool breeze coming off the lake, or how that one bright star beckoning in the distance can somehow pull one’s feelings into focus. 

In addition to increasing our mental health training for all staff during their orientation weeks, we are providing in-depth mental health training to a select group of counselors and health care staff who will act as our on-the-ground mental health responder team. 

Working in partnership with mental health practitioners that your child may routinely see at home, we invite families to upload any professional health recommendations their villager may have received, and also look to families and individuals to help us learn more about what helps a villager to thrive. We will also be consulting with a mental health nurse practitioner and a licensed clinical social worker throughout the summer, for specialized support and intervention when needed. 

Finally, we hope to partner with our families in this commitment to supporting mental health and the transition from home to camp and back again. Ways that families can help us, or other camps that their child may be attending, include:

  • Filling out an accurate and thorough health history form; help camp professionals learn how your child thrives best by sharing what strategies are already a part of your child’s toolkit for well-being. 
  • As mentioned above, uploading professional health recommendations from any mental health practitioner that your child routinely sees is another aspect of expanding that resilience toolkit.
  • Encouraging your child to take part in Kognito, a peer-to-peer training program, can help to support interpersonal social and emotional skills as your child gets ready for camp. 

Together we can not only raise awareness of mental health but also help create a nurturing and empowering camp experience for your children and all camp staff.  

About the Authors

Dr. Mollie Nelson has over twenty years of experience focused on global health education. Her career began as a trauma/ER nurse in the Air Force and since then she has obtained graduate degrees in ethnobotany, medical anthropology and nursing education. She has conducted research in the U.S. and in a wide range of cross-cultural healthcare settings including herbal medicine in Kyrgyzstan and traditional medical practices in Guatemala. Along with being the Associate Director of Health and Wellness at Concordia Language Villages, she teaches medical terminology and pathophysiology at Austin Community College and at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine.

Candace Kretchmar joined Concordia Language Villages in 2020 as the Villager and Staff Health Coordinator. She brings a lifetime love of languages and outdoor exploration as well as more than a decade of experience in K-5 education working in alternative schools, outdoor programming and public school settings. She has extensive experience working with special needs, trauma and mental health issues, as well as the coordination of student supports and accommodations.

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