Community groups aim to improve students’ mental health

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 16, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Ensuring the welfare of students is a shared objective between the the Madison Heights Community Coalition and Madison Heights Youth Assistance. Lately, it has taken the form of meeting the mental health needs of students, who feel strained not only by the pandemic, but also by the pressures of social media, including cyberbullying and other issues.  

Signs from the two groups are popping up outside buildings in the Lamphere and Madison school districts, with messages thanking school staff for everything they’ve done during the pandemic to keep students safe and healthy.

“We also included our community and families, as we appreciate the investment of time and energy it has taken to get through the past school year,” said Kimberly Heisler, the executive director of the Madison Heights Community Coalition, or MHCC. Among the group’s goals is helping students avoid substance use and finding more constructive ways to cope with the stresses of life.

The signs are also from the MHCC’s frequent collaborator, Madison Heights Youth Assistance. The MHYA is one of 26 Youth Assistance groups across Oakland County that seek to prevent and reduce delinquency, neglect and abuse. The initiatives are supported by a three-way agreement between the Oakland County Circuit Court, local school districts and cities.

The MHYA’s prevention programs are volunteer-driven, organized by people who live or work in the city of Madison Heights. The local chairperson is Amy Schroeder, and the vice chairperson is Diane McGillivray. The MHYA caseworker is Deb Lindsey.

At press time, the MHCC was planning to serve a special breakfast at the two middle schools — John Page, in the Lamphere district, and Wilkinson, in the Madison district. Heisler said the coalition has a special relationship there, having collaborated on various projects pertaining to the mental health of middle school students.

“We have implemented surveys, and have created a mental health toolkit for students. The kits have been offered in other Oakland County coalitions, and after discussions with school staff and board members and parents, we determined that our students would benefit from them,” Heisler said.

Called “coping kits,” each includes tools to ease anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions. There are nearly a dozen items in each kit, including a pocket-sized motivational journal, a six-color ink pen, bubbles, a paw-print-shaped stress toy, glitter putty, mints, a fidget spinner, motivational stickers, a peppermint aromatherapy roll-on, a letter to parents with tips on stress-coping techniques, a meditative poem for the students to reflect on, and more.

The counselors at the middle schools have each received 25 kits, sharing them with students at their discretion.

“Determining which students would acquire a kit was an initial barrier for MHCC, as our funds limited the amount of kits that could be created, especially when we all want them to be meaningful and helpful,” Heisler said. “We’re thankful for our collaboration with the school counselors, as we trust the kits will be distributed appropriately. Both counselors have expressed they’d love more kits, as the need is high.”

The coalition is currently working on purchasing more kits, anticipating that the need will only increase in the future. The kits cost $10 apiece, and funding was made possible by a $500 donation through the “Giving Tuesday” campaign on Facebook. The remainder of the cost was covered with funds from the coalition’s charity golf outing last year. This year’s outing will be July 30, in partnership with the Madison Heights Recreation Department.

“Students are facing all kinds of stress today, from isolation to depression from isolation,” Heisler said. “Most people are aware that students have suffered throughout the pandemic. We all have suffered — the pandemic has been life-changing for so many. But students have had to complete schoolwork online and alone. Remember the days of limiting screen time to improve students’ health? Those days are gone. It’s impossible to know everything students are seeing online, and monitoring this is not as easy as it sounds.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said in an email that she appreciates the ongoing work of the MHCC and MHYA to help students stay strong.

“COVID restrictions and remote learning have been hard on everyone, especially our youth, and I’m thankful our students have access to the Youth Assistance team to help strengthen family relations and reduce neglect and abuse,” Grafstein said. “At the same time, I appreciate the Community Coalition working to educate our community about the harms of substance abuse.”