Kim Foundation and ESU host mental health conference

Local4 News at 5
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 9:38 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - The first day of a mental health conference aimed at serving the state’s youth is in the books. The Kim Foundation and ESU teamed up to host the Nebraska School Mental Health Conference Wednesday in Kearney.

This is the ninth year of the conference, and it’s filled with attendees representing school districts throughout Nebraska. Officials said more than 400 people attended Wednesday’s conference, with schools still seeing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in students.

“The anxiety has certainly increased,” said Julia Hebenstreit, the executive director of The Kim Foundation. “Attendance I think has decreased, which really impacts their education, but some have gotten so used to the remote learning, and just it really shifted people’s mindset. We’re seeing it impacted in a lot of different ways.”

Hebenstreit said COVID-19 sill has an effect on students because it was unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

“They experienced something that was unprecedented, and none of them knew that a lot of us as adults haven’t lived through that, and so now that they have experienced that, just the uncertainty of ‘will something like that occur again,’” said Hebenstreit. “Anxiety has increased significantly around a lot of areas that were a fallout from the pandemic.”

Hebenstreit said along with anxiety, the decrease in behavioral health workers has delayed when students can get treatment, but thanks to the pandemic if students fear something like COVID-19 returns, progress has been made in recognizing and addressing mental health challenges.

“There’s been a lot of education on warning signs, symptom, and just educating the educators for what to look for,” said Hebenstreit. “Parents can (also) attend community nights and learn new things so they are more aware of what to watch for, and then most importantly if they identify those signs in a loved one or youth - where they can connect to the help they need.”

One attendee said COVID-19 didn’t only affect students.

“I think it’s taking not only students, but I think it’s taking everyone a little while to bounce back, and the loss of learning that happened when students are out of the classroom for the time when schools were shut down, it takes a while to get that learning back,” said Chandra Essex of Hastings Public Schools.

Essex said from a behavioral standpoint, kids learn from their peers, and since the pandemic, kids mental health is more of a priority. Nebraska implementing the Certified Community Behavioral Health Act will also aid students in bouncing back from the pandemic.

“It helps in a sense that it provides a framework for them and options so that they don’t have to seek out a bunch of different information about different trainings and helping,” Hebenstreit said. “It’s like a library of resources that they’ll be able to chose from. They know they’re quality programs, and it also just gives them an ok, like we do need to be doing this.”

Hebenstreit said social media has also had an impact on a child’s experience.