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School district addressing increased mental health concerns

T-R photo by Trevor Babcock MCSD Director of Special Services Matt Cretsinger and Center Associates Clinical Director Kim Hagen tell the school board at last Monday’s meeting about the efforts they’ve taken to address mental health needs of students and staff.

Historically a bleak time of the year, the freezing cold and grey skies of late winter months cause an uptick in mental health issues.

“This time of the year is important really because of the environmental factors,” Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) Director of Special Services Matt Cretsinger said. “The weather really plays into things. As people we need sunlight, we need fresh air.”

The characteristics of winter weather can bring out season affective disorder in some individuals, occurring in climates with less sunlight.

“February in general is one of the most difficult months. We see increased rates of depression and anxiety in most years,” Clinical Director at Center Associates and Licensed Independent Social Worker Kim Hagen said. “This year it has been much more severe.”

On top of the mental effects of the season, there’s the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, and lingering effects of the 2018 tornado and 2020 derecho.

Cretsinger said the school district has seen more referrals of students due to stress, anxiety or mild depression.

“We want to try to make sure that people realize that being under this much stress for this long can have some short-term and long-term effects on them,” Cretsinger said. “If you look at our kids in our halls the energy is just not there. You can tell things are really starting to weigh on them after working through things for so long. So we’re trying to figure out what we can do to give them a little bit of energy.”

Hagen said teachers are facing more stress than usual, dealing with COVID-19 mitigation efforts has put a strain on their ability to teach. Plus, they have to manage the emotional needs of students more than ever before.

Marshalltown schools have had a long-standing relationship with Center Associates, a mental health clinic in Marshalltown.

“When you’re seeing a therapeutic service like mental health counseling, it’s important for it to be consistent,” Cretsinger said.

Through MCSD’s partnership with Center Associates, therapists are given consistent access to students and teachers to provide a consistent service. Center Associates has five therapists working throughout all of Marshalltown schools.

Most recently Center Associates and MCSD have partnered to provide more education on social-emotional learning for students, staff and community members. The education is focused toward increasing understanding of mental health effects, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic stress and trauma.

The school district, along with Center Associates, put on a community-wide livestream event attracting more than 400 viewers to provide general information on improving mental health and how to seek help.

Focused time for school staff members has been set aside to discuss the mental health needs with a team of therapists.

Hagen said it’s important for everyone at this time of year especially to be consistently active, eat healthy and be exposed to sunlight when able.

“One of the main things is self-care, if we’re not taking care of ourselves then we can’t take care of other people,” Hagen said.

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Call Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com.

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