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Olivia Allen: Acknowledging mental health difficulties and finding help at school and beyond

Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus - 5/29/2024

May 29—Content Warning: This column includes sensitive topics and language relating to mental health treatment/mental illness.

I have sesamoiditis, an inflammatory condition to bones/tendons in the ball of my foot. This can make walking and running really painful, but is manageable.

I have severe allergies, too. While this, sadly, prevents me from owning a cat and makes me sneeze/itch often, my allergy shots and daily Zyrtec pill usually help.

I'm also clinically depressed.

Woah! Talk about a vibe-switch, right? What do a foot condition and allergies have to do with being depressed?

Well, nothing really — but they do have some things in common: each is a health condition, and while manageable, each never truly "leaves" you. A key difference, however, is how often people identify and, more importantly, treat, some over others.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I figured now could be a good time to share a bit of my story, what Quad-City schools do to support mental health and point out some resources — hopefully, to help someone out.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 50 million Americans have a mental illness.

I don't remember the exact moment the light in my eyes started to dim, but sixth grade sounds about right. For a while, but especially then, I didn't know I was depressed.

Like most middle schoolers, the pressure to fit in was incessant. Still, I simultaneously found myself feeling internally apathetic and bleak about, well, everything. It was quite a paradox. I barely remember much of it, but I do remember feeling numb, dejected and exhausted all the time — I didn't care much for existing.

Mental Health America's 2023 report found more than 16% of United States youth (ages 6-17) experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. Recent data still shows higher depression rates among ages 18-25.

College was my first introduction to formal mental health services, leading to my clinical Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) diagnosis. My alma mater, Simpson College, offers accessible services. Luckily for local undergrads, Quad-Cities colleges and universities largely do, too:

— Free, on-site counseling is available at Augustana College, St. Ambrose University, Western Illinois University — Quad Cities, Eastern Iowa Community College, Black Hawk College and Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Black Hawk, EICC, Augie and SAU provide various mental health screenings, and all local institutions partner with community agencies for additional student referrals.

— Augie offers mobile, 24/7 access to medical, mental health and psychiatric care via the Tedaloc platform, and SAU has a 24/7 mobile crisis unit and Virtual Calming Hive, where students can find coping activities and other helpful videos.

— At EICC, students can use the TalkCampus Peer Support App to connect with other students worldwide and share their mental health experiences anonymously.

Black Hawk offers TimelyCare telehealth services, allowing students to speak with a mental health professional on-demand 24/7 and participate in free wellness classes.

I'd encourage all local college students to take advantage of these services at least once, but especially if you think you may need help.

While I was lucky to have an amazing support system at college, I also found therapy to help in two key ways: it helped me manage my mental health and validated how I was feeling. For a bit, I was feeling good.

Then, COVID happened.

The pandemic took a toll on assumingly everyone's mental health. Despite continuing therapy, I was no exception. Everything felt so hopeless again.

I later started an antidepressant medication. It was slow, and not always steady, but I started to feel better — at least more consistently.

I'll always have MDD, and living with it will always be hard at times. I still have episodes where getting out of bed feels like a herculean task, but what I've found to make all the difference, though, is choosing to live with it.

Mental health is worth the investment — for yourself; for your children, if you're a parent; and certainly in education.

Fortunately, COVID had a positive outcome in increased K-12 mental health funding. In 2023 alone:

— A $10.4 million federal grant funded the launch of the University of Iowa's Scanlan Center for School Mental Health to expand pre-K-12 mental health care and research statewide.

— The state of Illinois put $9.5 million toward post-pandemic mental health services for children and young adults, 60% of which went to schools.

— At a local level, Rock Island High School earned a $3.8 million federal, five-year Education Innovation & Research grant to create a curriculum addressing COVID's long-term impact on students, focusing on social and emotional wellness, mental health and equity.

Bettendorf schools earned a state-backed Therapeutic Classroom Incentive Grant this fall, funding the creation of "therapeutic classrooms" for students whose social, emotional and behavioral needs prevent them from thriving in their current learning environment.

In April, Silvis School District was selected to pilot a new program, "District Comprehensive Approach," focused on developing proactive, PreK-12 mental health programming.

To address the U.S. mental health crisis, adequate funding is vital — but so is talking about it.

Quad-City schools have launched Grey Matters Collective chapters to do just that, including at Alleman High School; Augustana; Bettendorf High School; Black Hawk; Davenport Central and West High Schools; Moline High School and its alternative program, the ASPIRE Education Center; Pleasant Valley High School; Riverdale Middle/High Schools; Rock Island High School; Rockridge High School; Scott Community College; Sherrard High School; SAU and WIU.

The Gray Matters Collective is a local nonprofit dedicated to mental health advocacy and suicide prevention. It provides resources, education and community to youth and those navigating the "gray" area of how to help someone struggling with mental health.

Per its website, the group is "working to create a world without suicide."

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. for ages 10 to 14 and 20 to 34. So, how do we stop it?

I hope this column gave some food for thought:

— Investing in mental health services is absolutely essential — most importantly, for yourself.

— One way to encourage this from the ground up is by offering access to such services or support at schools. Fortunately, QC schools are doing pretty well on that front — but we've got to keep the ball rollin'.

— We need to treat mental illness for what it is: an illness, one you can't leave untreated.

You can't side-step your own mental health needs. Talking about your mental health can be daunting, I know. But, having waited so long to get help, I'd say spending most of early adolescence feeling like the brunette incarnation of Eeyore is even less appealing.

So, let's start talking about it — openly, honestly and in solidarity with each other.

If you need help:

— 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988, available 24/7.

— Spanish language phone line: Call toll-free at 1-888-628-9454.

— Veterans Crisis Line: Call 988 and press "1," or text 838255.

— National Youth Crisis Hotline: Call 800-442-HOPE (4673.)

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ) Suicide Hotline: Call 1-866-488-7386 or text "START" to 678-678.

— Eastern Iowa Mental Health Crisis Hotline: Call toll-free at 855-581-8111, 24/7.

— Safe2Help Illinois: Call 844-4-SAFEIL (723345) or text SAFE2 (72332.)

— NAMI: Text 741-741

— CARES Crisis Line, for children having a mental health crisis: Call 1-800-345-9049.

Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health, located in Moline and Rock Island: Screening, assessment and support services for children and young adults experiencing a psychiatric emergency. Visit www.unitypoint.org/locations/robert-young-mental-health-center.

— Robert Young Crisis Line: Call 309-779-2999 or 309-779-3001, available 24/7.

Family Resources: Mental health support and counseling services, comprehensive care coordination. Visit www.famres.org for all Quad-City locations.

Student Shout-Outs

A roundup of Quad-City student recognitions from over the past week:

— Rivermont Collegiate's graduating class of 24 students received more than $4.6 million in merit-based scholarships — equating to more than $194,000 per student.

Bettendorf Middle School students were honored for academics, music, citizenship, and more at the district's annual Sixth Grade Awards Night.

Bettendorf High School senior Michael Farmer was featured in the Des Moines Register's Academic All-State 2024 list as one of 25 "regional standouts" in Iowa. Farmer scored a 35 on the ACT exam, touts a 4.0 GPA and plans to study computer engineering at Iowa State University.

— A total of 33 students in Rock Island High School's Education Internship program signed letters of intent to pursue an education degree on Thursday. The program places Rocky students throughout district classrooms — ranging from kindergarten to high school underclassmen, special education and more.

Denkmann Elementary School in Rock Island earned "Lighthouse Status" under FranklinCovey's nationwide Leader in Me Program.

Rock Island-Milan schools also awarded 44 students with a "Medal of Honor" award, given annually to "outstanding" students who have proven to be all-around good students, citizens and caring individuals with a positive influence on their school.

— Two Davenport high schoolers brought home top awards at iJAG's (Iowa's Jobs for American Graduates) 2024 Skills Development Conference. Here, students in grades seven-10 participate in skill-building competitions and leadership/career development activities. Rhianna Tramell, of West High School, took first place in "Prepared Speaking," and Dazhia Shipp, Central High School, finished first in the "Employability Skills" category.

— As previously reported, Moline High School had 37 students named as 2024 Illinois State Scholars, representing the top ten percent of high school seniors (approximately) from over 700 high schools statewide based on a combination of exemplary ACT/SAT test scores, GPA and sixth-semester class rank. The school unveiled this year's recipients on Thursday, including:

Alice Adkins, Joachim Arul, Bleu Beckwith, Riley Colclasure, Addison Cook-Gibbs, Rebecca Cramer, Elizabeth Dalton, Samantha DeBlieck, Gavin Dowdal, Zander Ealy, Gwennan Graham, Zayda Graham, Clara Graves, Marley Haley, Halle Hammond, Alexis Havercamp, Anna Hazen, Ryan Hensley, Zachary Houtekier, Jathinram Kollarapu, Venkata Kuppili, Isabella Lamphier, Johan Marquez, Kelsy McCormick, Mei Lin McDermott, Nishitha Mekala, Emeterio Moreno, John Nienhaus, Anna Otten, Sara Patil, Ankit Rajvanshi, Jaxon Roberts, Nathaniel Robertson, Logan Schelker, Alex Schimmel, Dhruvi Sharma and Sayid Sirojev.

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(c)2024 Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, Ill.

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