Pictured: North Star’s Program Specialist Didi Tergesen (left) and Programs Director Ana Danielson/
As much as might like to idealize the innocence of youth, most adults can attest to the fact that childhood frequently feels more like a catastrophe than a cakewalk. The stresses of development and schooling can manifest as anything from anxiety to depression to eating disorders, and in worst case scenarios, such mental health challenges can lead to tragedy, such as the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
While Mono and Inyo County school districts and law enforcement agencies seek to create safety measures to avert such tragedies, a new counseling center is bringing hope of prevention, early intervention and treatment for individuals, particularly students, struggling with mental health challenges.
North Star Counseling Center, which opened in September of last year, offers counseling services to students, families and community members in both Mono and Inyo County. “There’s such a stigma on mental health issues that hopefully having access to more mental health services will reduce that stigma,” said Mono County Office of Education Special Programs Director Ana Danielson. “Almost anyone could benefit from speaking to a counselor.”
Counselor Kathy Harlander agreed. “I think that a lot of kids and teenagers want to go to counseling, even though the idea is scary to them at first,” she said. “Once they get in there they really enjoy it, because it’s not something they’re used to, having someone they can talk to without there being any judgment, or without having to fear that person going and gossiping about them, especially because they live in such a small town.”
North Star currently employs 4 Counselors in both counties, offering school-based counseling to students grades K-12, as well as families, couples, and individuals. Counseling services are provided by interns with a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, with supervision by a licensed MFT Therapist.
The new Counseling Center is the first project of its kind in Mono or Inyo County, Danielson said. While Mono County Behavioral Health offered counseling in schools for the previous 2 years, “Otherwise there has not been a non-profit or school-based counseling service.”
North Star was created as a joint venture between the Mono County Office of Education and the Inyo County Superintendent of Schools, funded by the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention initiatives supported by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities.
CalMHSA contracted with the California County Superintendents Education Services Association (CCSESA), Danielson explained, which in turn contracted with each educational region in the state to provide K-12 Student Mental Health Initiative Funds.
For students and families interested in the Counseling Center but unsure of the financial commitment, Danielson also explained that through the funding provided by CalMHSA, North Star provides County schools with voucher money to offset or fully cover the $35 per session for referred students.
That $35 is still much more affordable than private alternatives, Danielson observed, considering a private therapist could cost anywhere between $100-200 an hour. While North Star does not accept MediCal or any insurance, Danielson referred interested parties with insurance to Mono County Behavioral Health.
“I think the school districts throughout [Mono] County are also really happy to have this resource available to them as a method of helping kids and families,” Mono County Office of Education Superintendent Stacey Adler said. “The feedback that I’ve gotten from principals is very positive.”
In fact, as Counselor Kathy Harlander reported, there is currently a growing waiting list for counseling services. “Now that the demand is starting to pick up, I think that the goal is to add more therapists,” she noted.
Harlander’s own experience has been very positive thus far, she said. “A lot of the clients I’ve seen I’m able to say goodbye to and send them on their way because they’ve made progress.”
More info: contact the North Star office in Mammoth at 760.924.7926, or in Bishop at 760.873.4206.