Mental health care has long-faced a stigma that made talking about needs or services difficult. Lately, though, mental health has become a much talked about topic. Nearly half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses are estimated to start by age 14. Here in South Dakota, 9% of adolescents ages 12-17 had a major depressive episode in the year prior to them being surveyed. But, more than half of them never received treatment. While we are becoming more aware of the data, there is still work to be done.
Part of breaking down the stigma around mental health is educating others and creating awareness. That is why Sioux Empire United Way has agreed to additional funding to help bring on another counselor for this current school year. PATH, Providing Access to Healing, provides professional counseling services directly to students in their schools.
Sioux Empire United Way started looking at mental health needs in 2014. Researching solutions, United Way found a model program within our United Way network that would work within our local region. We were able to quickly begin piloting PATH within the Harrisburg School District back in 2015. The main goal was to remove barriers for youth to receive mental health care before they become even larger needs.
PATH counselors focus on treatment and coping skills for students (and their families) struggling with common issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and relationship stresses among behavioral issues.
By working side by side with the student, family, school counselors, and the school district, PATH counselors are able to create a plan that will benefit the student. “PATH is not meant to be a replacement for the school counselor,” as Jennifer Van’t Hul, Liberty School Counselor, mentions, “It takes a village and I am just one person.”
“The biggest benefit of this program”, Van’t Hul states, “The PATH counselors come to the schools and meet with each student for their scheduled time. This allows the students to continue through their day without missing much class or having others know what they are doing. Parents also don’t have to stress over missing work, which is a big thank you to United Way. For those families that aren’t able to afford help, this is the best option for them and they (students) enjoy going.” Van’t Hul mentions, “Students look forward to their scheduled time, as this is additional support for them within the school. PATH has opened up more doors for these students.”
During the 2015 piloted year, PATH served 50 students in three schools. Through a successful 2018 campaign, PATH expanded to Canton, Dell Rapids, Harrisburg, Sioux Falls Public, and Tea Area schools with 804 sessions in 2017. Today, they are serving more than 40 schools and have added Brandon Valley and Sioux Falls Catholic with over 1,490 sessions so far.
"PATH is a great example of people in our community working together to solve local programs and of what makes our local United Way so special," said Rebecca Kiesow-Knudson, Vice President of Community Services at Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota.
Thank you for your continued support in United Way and helping programs like PATH continue to succeed and make a difference in our Sioux Empire.