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Mother, daughter share story of coping with mental health

October is Mental Health Screening Awareness Month
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 3:48 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 12, 2021 at 6:15 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As the pandemic continues to take a toll on many of us in different ways, including children, a mother/daughter duo from Appleton wants to share their story about mental health.

October is Mental Health Screening Awareness Month and it was actually a free, voluntary mental health screening in middle school that helped Rachel and Kaitlyn Pope cope with a path forward.

In 7th grade, at just 13-years-old, Kaitlyn found success in track.

“That season actually, I won all of my events, set the city record, the school record and I actually ended up going to Nationals,” said Kaitlyn.

That success only made her want more, but the pressure started to take a toll.

“I just put all this pressure on me, like the pressure just kept building up and building up and it, it was a lot. It really was and I did not need to have all this pressure on me, I was 13, but I didn’t know how to control it at that point,” said Kaitlyn.

Not only did Kaitlyn not know how to control it, but she also said she really didn’t know what she was experiencing.

“My mom and I are super close like we talked about everything and anything. But I didn’t know what anxiety was at that point so like I didn’t even know that was something I should talk about and so it just like never came up in our conversations,” said Kaitlyn.

The conversation did happen when Kaitlyn’s mom, Rachel, got a phone call after she took a free, voluntary wellness screening through Samaritan Counseling, a mental health agency in the Fox Valley that provides counseling and care to individuals and families.

“We ask a series of questions right on their computer and it typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete,” said Jen Parsons, Wellness Screen Program Director at Samaritan Counseling Center of the Fox Valley. “Some of the questions that we ask are related to, you know, have you been spending more time alone? are you worrying a lot? having trouble sleeping? Are you feeling hopeless?”

“I didn’t really have any concerns, but it’s great that they have this resource set up and so we’ll go ahead and go with it, so we signed up for it,” said Rachel. “And then I actually forgot about it until they called me with her results.”

Kaitlyn scored very high on indicators saying she was experiencing high levels of anxiety.

“I was really surprised because I would have always described my daughter as very easygoing carefree. And so at first, I was like, “Are you sure like Kaitlyn Pope? And they were like, Yeah,” said Rachel. “I was amazed that they could pick up something in a screening that I didn’t know about my daughter because we have a really close relationship.”

“I think that once it was explained to me, I was like ‘yes, definitely, that is how I am feeling’ but it was like one of those things I didn’t tell anybody,” said Kaitlyn.

“It didn’t realize how much some of the successes she had had in the past were placing extra pressure on her,” said Rachel. “I thought she would come to me if she had any questions or issues or concerns. I just had no idea that she needed someone else to talk to.”

After the screening, Samaritan Counseling helped Kaitlyn and Rachel come up with a plan to help her cope with her anxiety.

“We then follow up with the student’s parent or legal guardian and really go through those results of the screening, along with our recommendation of next steps,” said Parsons.

For Kaitlyn, she saw a therapist.

“It was like it was like a drastic change from there,” said Kaitlyn. “She like told me I had to like channel it in different outlets … instead of like putting all the pressure on me and like holding it inside. I was able to like talk to her talk to my mom, talk to my dad and so, it like became easier to handle.”

Kaitlyn said she still uses those coping mechanisms that she learned in middle school as a sophomore studying finance in college.

“I still have like pretty bad test anxiety. So I find myself using them a lot like when I’m preparing for my test, when I’m about to take my tests, even during my test, and they like, they always are super helpful,” said Kaitlyn.

Rachel said she is thankful and proud of her daughter’s coping mechanisms.

“I’m just really thankful that the screening was done and that she was able to talk to someone and get tools because I just think kids can go down a lot of really bad paths and I’m really thankful that she didn’t,” said Rachel.

That is why the Pope’s have decided to share their story, to end the stigma and encourage early intervention.

“I think so many parents can relate to Rachel’s story of their student being very successful in school and doing all the right things but really struggling inside. I think there’s something we can all learn from that. Sometimes our thoughts and feelings aren’t seen and it’s really important to ask those questions and I guess that’s why I guess our program is so important for the community,” said Parsons.

As we previously reported, Samaritan Counseling continues to expand its wellness screening into more schools throughout the area. Earlier this year, we introduced you to ‘Calumet Thrive’, a bigger initiative to use school-based mental health screenings.

“If we really identify something whether it’s a mental health concern or chronic pain or a broken bone, if we can identify that immediately or take that as a sense of urgency, we really can get better results in the future,” said Parsons. “And it doesn’t mean that it needs to be a lifelong support, these supports are really put in place to help guide children and families and adults in their journey on learning great strategies to get through some difficult stuff.”

“It’s not a matter of being a good parent or a bad parent, it’s not a matter of knowing your child or not knowing your child. We’re just all complex human beings. So, use all the tools and resources that we have available,” said Rachel.

“I would tell a parent probably not to take it personally. It’s not your fault. It happens to everybody. I think everyone gets anxious and nervous sometimes, and sometimes it’s just a little worse for other people and it’s not a parenting thing by any means. So like, don’t take it personally. But just help them get through it in the best way that you can,” said Kaitlyn.

For more information about the wellness testing, head to www.samaritan-counseling.com

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