Unity Day (copy)

Pardeeville Elementary School students exit their school to line up on the high school football field to spell out the word "HERO" for Unity Day, an anti-bullying education effort the school district held in October 2017. 

PARDEEVILLE — Free events concerning youth mental health will begin in October in Pardeeville.

First, the Pardeeville High School hosts an eight-hour Youth Mental Health Training event from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 25. The session — provided by professionals from the national training organization, Mental Health First Aid — covers topics including depression, anxiety, social media, coping skills and addictions.

Pardeeville Area School District staff completed the same training in the summer.

“It’s changed the conversation among staff,” high school counselor Crystal Huset said of the training and how it has led teachers to refer students to Huset’s office for behaviors they hadn’t recognized in the past.

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“Even their vocabulary has changed — you can tell their knowledge is just so much greater than it was.”

The October event is open to anyone regardless of their occupation or place of residence but designed especially for those who work with youth on a regular basis, Huset said. Space is limited for the training and those interested should register before Oct. 18.

Just after the training, the high school hosts a one-hour informational session from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. covering the subjects of depression and anxiety. This event is led by Heather Gove, a therapist from Aspen Counseling in Portage, and it is also open to anyone who would like to attend.

The informational session is the first of three occurring at the high school this school year. Gove and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office will lead the second training from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7 on the subjects of coping skills and social media and the sheriff’s office will lead the third at the same time Feb. 28 on the subject of addiction.

The district would like people to register for informational sessions, too, but space is not limited for them, said elementary counselor Megan Dietzenbach. She said a similar training event held for staff in August has led to improvement among staff.

“It helps in recognizing issues and symptoms — how you look at a student and understanding their actions, emotions and behaviors,” she said. The best thing result from the training for staff, she added, is feeling more comfortable in starting conversations about mental health.

“Saying the right thing doesn’t mean reading a specific statement,” Dietzenbach said. “It’s about noticing the behavior, feeling comfortable with their knowledge and knowing the resources available” for students.

“When you notice something and ask the student if they’d like to talk about it, that student then knows someone cares and wants to listen.”

Good training ensures people don’t pin blanket statements to concerning behavior, such as “Oh, that kid is just being naughty,” Dietzenbach said, or “That’s just teenager stuff,” added Huset.

Regarding social media, specifically, the world looks much different today for youth than it did five, 10 or 20 years ago, Huset said. Training like that provided in Pardeeville deals with issues that might seem entirely new to participants.

“When a student has a bad experience on Snapchat or Facebook, they are less likely to reach a conclusion,” Huset said of social media. “On the contrary, when there’s a face-to-face fight, students typically reach a conclusion and they more often work through it.

“Social media a lot of times goes unfinished — it isn’t discussed and so it carries into the school day.”

As a counselor, Huset stresses for students the importance of “meaningful conversations” — conversations in which the student can assess how a person is feeling as they speak, as opposed to online. She also talks to them about what’s appropriate on social media and “what can be so terribly misconstrued.”

“The reality is that one in five students are struggling from mental illness, so the chances are someone in your life is struggling,” Huset said.

The free events in Pardeeville were made possible by an $11,000 mental health grant the school district received from the Department of Public Instruction

“This would give you some really important tools,” Huset said.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.


Portage Daily Register Reporter

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