AC3 Podcast episode 3

Author: Vicki Ballas

Discussed teen issues with Munising Middle/High School Mental Health Therapist Mellissa Carlson and two students Cleo and Adel.

June 30, 2021

the upper peninsula, lake superior and grand island

Welcome to the Alger County Communities That Care podcast series. I am Vicki Ballas, Alger and Marquette County Community Nutrition Instructor for Michigan State University Extension. MSU Extension is partnering with Alger County Communities That Care or AC3 for short, to provide informative and real conversations from our community. AC3 is a coalition of community members working together to keep Alger County united and thriving by providing programs and resources that promote a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults in Alger County. So welcome to the AC3 pod cast. This is our third episode and today we're talking with two students from Munising High School, Cleo and Adele. Welcome. And also the Munising School Mental Health Therapist, Melissa Carlson. So welcome, the three of you. Our topic today is teen issues. It's a very broad topic, so let's get started and see where this takes us. My first question is, how has the pandemic affected you personally as a student? Does anybody want to go first?

Adele: Ok, I think it has affected me because the schooling was very inconsistent and it's all over the place. Makes me nervous because I don't have a schedule and the quarantining was not good. Because without human contact, kinda bad

Cleo: and without human contact, it's pretty hard. And then when you get quarantined so much and the teachers, just like half of the students will be quarantine and half will be in-person when you're in quarantine and there's also in-person going on. The teachers just kinda don't care about the online student. It's kinda just, you get thrown the assignment and then that's what you get. And so it's been hard with quarantine and the whole pandemic and not having that social interaction with everybody.

Vicki: Would you say that the social interaction was is the most difficult part of it is the lack of that?

Cleo: Yeah, I would say so. But it's a lot easier to learn something when someone is right there in front of you, then trying to figure it out through a screen.

Vicki: What about just the social being with people?

Adele: Well it's Okay, but I feel like some people, have like just gotten used to just texting and now they can't talk in person. because they don't know how to start a conversation. So it's kind of awkward.

Vicki: That's funny you say that because, you know, I have experienced that myself, just being home I work in my office and when I'm out and I see people now, I actually even hesitate to go and talk to them because it's been so long. You both sound like such serious students that it's important to have that consistency. We all want that and I think a lot of times we forget that our teens need that too to get through school. You have to be organized and consistent. Don't you? Cleo & Adele: Ya. Vicki: And I think sometimes as adults we think that all kids, they can handle anything and this they probably don't even care. But you were already have told us that that's important to you to have that consistency and that organization. So that's good to know. Thanks. Cleo & Adele: Ya! Vicki: Missy, can you tell us what students are saying to you about how the pandemic is affecting them, you know, emotionally?

Melissa Carlson: Yeah. You know, the majority of students that came to see me this year, we're definitely anxiety and depression. But every time we would go on a quarantine, whether it would be a school-wide quarantine, or it would be an individual quarantine. So say a kid was a close contact and they got quarantined for 14 days. When they would come back, their anxiety symptoms, especially anxiety symptoms would be through the roof. They would be behind in school, grades start slipping. So their stress level just with skyrocket for sure. And along with that comes the athletics. So if a kid was quarantined during athletics, then that's their coping. That's our big, huge coping strategy and that just got taken away. And so then their depressive symptoms would increase so directly with the pandemic, the mental health symptoms really with the students increased a lot.

Vicki: That's concerning.

Missy: Yeah, absolutely. And then you guys had talked about just the social aspect of it and Adele hit a really good point too. With like the not knowing how to talk to people. I saw that a lot and especially with someone who even had a little bit of anxiety before then their home for two weeks or a month when we had the high schoolers for home for a month or home that time and then they come back and just walking in the classroom. They would have really heightened anxiety and then having to present or talk in front of the class. Yeah. Those symptoms would really increase.

Vicki: Sounds like it was Such a up and down roller coaster for students. For me, I got to work at home the entire time We didn't go back and forth to the office and just hearing Cleo and Adele talk, it really makes me realize that how ruff that would have been if I had to go back and forth to the office, but I didn't I got to stay in one place and it was constant. So for all of you to be going back and forth like that, It sounds really tough.

Missy: Yeah. I do remember one specific incident to where we had it was I think it was 43 students who got called down to the office because they were being quarantined. And from that point, I mean, Mr. Kelto changed the way that he did things from than right. Like he started announcing it in the classrooms instead of school-wide, which was a really good move. But the anxiety that I would see when I would have a student in here for a therapy session and there would be an announcement or kids would be calling down the classroom. They would hold their breath, Oh no! I think, you know like they were going to get quarantined. And so there's a lot of fear with students about being one to get called down.

Vicki: Wow, this is a, you know, I had no idea that this is what it was like. We only have gotten into our first couple of questions. So I'm really glad we're all here to tell the community what everybody's going through because there's a lot of us that don't know what it's like for you. So I appreciate that.

Missy: Yeah. Well, even though if I could add one quick thing on that too is the strength that I'd seen in the students has overwhelmed me with how much they're able to pull from, you know, like just to be here week after week through all of these, this roller coaster. The resilience that these kids have is amazing. Vicki: That's impressive. They definitely are strong.

Vicki: So what community supports are available for help that you know of Missy?

Missy: Well, there's me here in the School. I'm here Monday through Friday, 7:30 to 4:30 and I'm here through the summer two. So I keep summer hours. Our supports are limited. So we've got a couple different outpatient therapist in the community. There's Patrice Evans, but I I'm not sure if she's taking adolescence anymore and then we've got Nora from Bootlake Counseling. So it's actually not in Alger County, but right outside of Alger County. And then we have Candace Dennis with the tribe. She's a mental health therapist over at our Tribal Health Clinic. Then we've got Pathways is for adolescents who have severe mental health symptoms, so suicidal or severe and persistent mental illness. But other than that, there's really not a lot of supports, there's a pretty big gap there.

Vicki: So when you say you're going to be there all summer, Can students come and talk with you?

Missy: Yeah! Though about half of the case load that I have right now are continuing through the summer, continuing to receive therapy. And then I have some new referrals that are rolling in to start the summer with but yeah.

Vicki: So students would need a referral to come talk with you?

Missy: Or they can just, if they themselves had seen a symptom that they're concerned about or wanted to come in and talk to me. They would just need to come in and say, Hey, I would like to start therapy. Typically, that would mean contacting their parents and getting permission. But if they're 14 or over, Michigan mental health code says that they can have mental health therapy without parental consent for up to 12 sessions or four months.

Vicki: That's wonderful. I also know at Superior Central School Erin BEAUPIED she's the social worker.

Missy: Yeah. Oh, that reminds me too. We do have Holly here, so Holly is our school social worker here. She's here one day a week. She has the ability to work with the general education population, but she specifically focuses on special education services.

Vicki: Okay.

Missy: And then we do have Matt Mattson here. He's the guidance counselors. We had almost like I will counseling team that has kinda come together.

Vicki: And that sounds wonderful. And I have to put a little plug-in here for the AC3 group because all of our fundraising that we do, the majority of it goes for the school social workers and any money that is needed to provide that for the schools, up in Grand Marias as well. So we're really proud to, to have that finally happened for our students. We know it's a big need for them and we're glad to help. Okay, So how has all of this affected your social relationships? That's kind of a big question isn't it? Are you able to still hang out with friends or do you do it all through social media? How are you handling that?

Adele: I still hang out with my y friends. But I feel like a lot of people are just used to being at home. So like if we hang out, we usually just hanging out at our house. We don't go many places anymore because there is still COVID, but I feel like people don't like to leave their house anymore? Me included sometimes but it can be awkward because you just stare at our phones sometimes. I guess that's the new hang out.

Cleo: That's kind of what happens . You have to hang out and then you do that over text? You have to hang out over texts. And then you'd get to someone's house and you both are just kind of sitting there like wherever you're sitting and you're either texting each other or you're just sitting there in silence. And it's just like now it's basically all over social media. So there's not really much social interaction with friends anymore. It's just kinda all over social media.

Vicki: So that's a real thing. You're in a room together texting each other, I thought that was just kind of a funny meme or something, I didn't realize it was actual.

Cleo: Yeah, it actually happens, we don't know how to say it out loud or express it out loud so you're like, All right, I'm going to text them instead. (all laughing)

Vicki: I definitely have gotten better at typing on my phone. that's for sure But I found it, So I'm up in my office in my upstairs and my husband will be downstairs and all text him. Cleo: Yeah. Vicki: I'll do that. Sometimes because it's quicker, but yeah. Well, maybe now that the weather's nicer and some of the restrictions have been lifted. Maybe all of you will get outside, go to the beach and do some hiking or just get outside more and do some things, I really hope that for all of you. All right, let's see. So with all of the division and the hate, culture and protesting to push back happening in our country. Are you seeing less acceptance or more acceptance at school for people from the LGBTQ plus community, non-whites, people with disabilities, are people experiencing mental illness, have you notice anything?

Cleo: I've definitely noticed a lot more acceptance! with people, me being in one of those communities myself, being in the LGBTQ community, definitely see more acceptance with like people are finally starting to come out to people and be who they want to be. And we have more acceptance with non-white people and with people with disabilities. There's a lot more people talking to them now and not just ignoring them and pushing them aside. We've started to notice that they are people as well. And we need to accept them like they're like us.

Adele: Yeah, I think I am seeing more acceptance too. There is still of course people that are mean but the majority of the people who are more accepting.

Vicki: I'm so happy to hear that! I was really afraid it might go the other way because, you know, they're they're being pretty loud as well. So I'm glad to hear the pushback of all that as being a little louder and getting out there. Missy, Do you have any comments about that? Have you seen any differences?

Missy: When I'm here, I'm in my office the whole time because I'm usually seeing kids back to back. So I don't really get to observe like how they're interacting. But I would say that I've had several students this year who have come to see me specifically because of issues surrounding being in the LGBTQ community. Just like talking about it, processing it, kinda figuring out where they fall, how, how to get that sense of belonging. You know, that's definitely been something, but I don't think that that's anything out of the ordinary, all other agencies that I've worked for. That's always kind of been a thing in therapy to be able to discuss. Though I haven't noticed, like with in the school culture, necessarily any kind of differences.

Vicki: But the students have. So that's really, that's really promising. Missy: Yeah. Vicki: And I think a lot of things on social media too I've noticed a former student of Munising school recently posted some pictures that it was pretty awesome. And all of the responses that he got back were from former teachers or they're still teachers at the school, I guess some have retired, myself there were a lot of comments from our community that really showed support to this person and really loving, thoughtful comments. So that was just really good to see. As soon as I saw it, I thought, oh no, I hope nobody says anything. Nobody did. It was all positive things. And so it's really good to see that I think things are changing , yeah,

Cleo: There's a little bit of hate and there's certain people that will not except it and will never accept it. But I mean, you just got to keep moving on and just let them do what they want to do.

Vicki: right Just spread the love, right? Not the hate let's spread the love. So there are so many issues today troubling all of us. From climate change to human rights as we just talked about, what do you want to see changed and how are you feeling about your future or your generation's future? Another loaded question. (all chuckle)

Adele: Well, I feel like definitely more peace because well, just with this year there was way, way to much hate and definitely more violence, I mean, I guess that's kind of the same thing. But different, I feel like there is hope for our generation, but definitely don't get the interaction that we need. And we definitely need help expressing our feelings better and noticing what we're feeling.

Vicki: That's great I like that! That's something I'm always working on too.

Cleo: Yeah, I definitely see potential for everyone's future and it being great with our generation. But I think the hate definitely need the calm down a little bit. And we need a lot more peace and interaction with people for it to be a great future for all of us.

Vicki: Any ideas on how that can happen (laughing) and I shouldn't laugh while I say that it's a serious question.

Adel: Like you said, less hate and more love! (muffled chuckles) one person at a time.

Vicki: ya, I've noticed too, is something that's been frustrating me lately, is on social media, I guess, especially when somebody sees something, whatever it is, it seems like they automatically throw this judgment on it before they even find out the facts (Cleo & Adele agree saying ya) it can be anything. I'm a city commissioner. And so I see that a lot a lot of things that happened in the community. Everybody automatically just assumes that whoever did this, they're idiots. (Adele agrees) When they find out why it was done and what everything was behind it then it's like, oh, okay. So I would like to suggest to people, you know what ask the questions first and then save your judgment for later. But first, find out find out don't just it seems like this automatic response and I don't know if it's because of the, you know, all the restrictions that have been on us in that. But it just seems like it's more than I've ever seen in my 59 years of life, that everybody is just judging first or just quick their first responses to judge. And so I guess I would like to say try to pause yourself from judging first. Give it some thought and ask some questions.

Cleo: Yeah, I like it. It's definitely good!

Vicki: I'm really frustrated with that. right now (chuckling) I've had enough like you said, I've had enough of all this hate and anger. Really, really need to check ourselves to go, hey, what's my first response going to be from now moving forward, right? Everyone: Yes! Any advice for parents who their kids are feeling anxious, or depression?

Missy: Yeah, That's a good one! The first thing is just really try to be in tune with what your kids are doing, right. So one of the biggest signs of depression is when a teenager is isolating when they're in their room for extended periods of time, only peeking out of the room to go have a snack and then go back and really check on them, sit down, have those conversations. Don't be afraid to bring up the topics of mental health with your kids. Let them know the warning signs to watch for in themselves. So that way they're going to ask for help when they really do need it. Take lots of time outside. We live in a beautiful area and it's really important for mental health to get that vitamin D, get that exercise. That also helps with sleep. And sleep is a huge factor in mental health. You want to make sure that you're taking care of your, your sleep patterns. Nutrition is another huge factor too. You know what, your family and you have those, those discussions about nutrition and make the meals with your family and the snacks and make sure that you're getting the proper nutrition. So there's lots of things that families can do to really promote the mental health of their teenagers.

Vicki: as a community nutrition instructor. I think in every one of our podcasts, I've been able to bring that topic up. It is so important to our mental health. Eating a healthy diet affects so many things, and especially our mental health and physical health, even when you are trying to get over an addiction of some sort, no matter if it's vaping or alcohol or drugs or anything, nutrition actually plays such an important part in that it can actually by about 67 percent can increase your chances of success. So you can't downplay the eating healthy. I think just as a parent myself, I think one of the most important things to do is listen to your kids and talk to them without that judgment. And just listen to what they have to say. You don't always have to solve their problem. Sometimes just being there for them and listening. Letting them know that you're there for them and care. Missy: Absolutely! Vicki: Cleo, Is there anything else that you wanted to say about the LGBTQ community? Maybe to our community? I don't know if there's any message you wanted to send out there, Now it's your chance.

Cleo: We are people, who like, we're like everybody else , it's just who we love and who we care for is different than other people. I definitely want more acceptance and I just want everybody in our community just be who they want to be and don't let anyone affect that. And just live life like you want to live it and not like how people are telling you how to live it.

Vicki: It has really come out so clearly now and scientifically as well, is that there are so many other genders than just male and female. It is not an oddity, it is not unusual, It is not rare, It is the norm that there are so many different genders. We don't need to be just male-female, putting it in those pigeonholes anymore. It is scientifically proven. There are many genders. And now we have to work on the education part of that and the acceptance part of that.

Cleo: Yeah. Like when if someone tells you they're like non-binary or they don't want to go by he or she, they want to go buy They or them. It's definitely hard for people if they like later in life that because you've been calling them he or she for so long, it's hard to try to change, but showing them the effort that you're trying to change, gives people the hope that they'll eventually get it. That that's who they want to be.

Vicki: Yeah. Just that you're aware of that I don't know if you've noticed, but on this Zoom call, I have on my name I've got Vicki Ballas She her hers. And I purposely put that there to let people know that I am aware of this, that there are many genders and that it's all okay. We all need to be accepting of this. And so there's a lot of things we can do to let the community know, like me, we all just want to be us, right? We need to let everybody be who they are.

Cleo: Yes! In that and not doing that. Melissa, you might want to talk to this to about how it affects your mental health not being able to be who you are.

Missy: AH, For sure! (laughing) Like if you think about just the adolescence and being a teenager, one of the central developmental factors as is being belonging, a sense of belonging, right, and finding your people and feeling that, that sense of acceptance. And so you can imagine what it would be like if you get rejected, get rejected by, by your family or your friends or, you know, people that you are very connected with. What that can do to you.

Vicki: society in general. Missy: a lot can affect that. rejection, It's hard for anybody, but especially if it's something huge, like coming out for the first time or being able to talk to someone about gender dysphoria, that's really difficult. It's very scary. There's a lot of fear involved to with, with even even the prospect of of coming out is very terrifying. The kids need a lot of support around that. Trying to make people feel like they've got an environment of that acceptance or an atmosphere of acceptance is really important. But there are other ways that we can let our community know that we support them and how do we do that? I don't know if all three of you have any comments about that? That's something that I think just not shying away from those topics wherever you are, just being able to talk about it. And even with our own family, and with our colleagues and with our friends being able to talk about these topics, the LGBTQ community, I think that's away. I mean, you can put up little pride flags if you want, and I've seen those rainbow stickers, you know, those are ways just to kinda give that outward symbol of acceptance. And Vicki, this is the type of person you are anyway, you're just very warm and welcoming and accepting. And so I think you just kinda get it. But some people have to put a little bit more effort in it and, you know, I don't know if "you girls" have any.......(corrects herself)"you people" have any idea of what we could do even in this school like as, you know, in our halls?

Vicki: Can I add one thing real quick? I think with Melissa, you saying "you girls" and then correcting yourself, I think that's one of the big things and I'm really working on, is I work in the classroom with students instead of saying boys and girls anymore. I don't say that. I say students and call them students or names like that and try not to use those he she.

Missy: It can be hard. And just like Cleo had, had said before, like it can be really challenging, like I've had some non-binary students that I worked with this year. And I will correct myself constantly.

Vicki: Yeah. and I think that and that's okay. And I think that's the message I think we want to give to the community. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and make corrections and ask questions. You know, what should I call you? What do you want to be? Call this a lot of new ground for people and we're on a learning position. So I would just like to encourage people to try to not let that stop you. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Please go ahead Cleo, what were you going to say?

Cleo: You were saying like how you address it out in public or with friends or with family is just If someone asks you a question, try to talk about it. Don't just shut away from it and be like well or exchanges object. Talk about it and let them know that you are an ally for everybody and more acceptance. Love to see more allies in the community, for the community and everything like that. And it's great to see people accepting us more. Adele: I just thinking being more loving and accepting.....and (laughing some)

Vicki: (Laughing) It's just that simple isn't it Adele it's that simple! across the board Why not? Right? Like on Facebook. Why not post to Pride, Flag with some positive comments just to let, let that out there. That's a really simple I can do. I think I'm going to do something like that.

Cleo: Yeah! it's Pride month Why not!

Vicki: Yeah. I think the more we see that, then the people that are maybe a little more apprehensive about it. Once they see that acceptance, then they might go, oh, you know, I need to think about this more. So I'd like to end with one last question. What do you feel hopeful about?

Adele: That When bad things happen That the pain won't last forever. And bad things are temporary. Though, like just like this pandemic is temporary and school is temporary It's not that it's a horrible thing, I guess but so I hope that it will get better. (chuckling)

Vicki: That's a good one. Cleo: It will get better and we can go back to the normal kind of and get rid of these masks then allow you to hug people without worrying about it, and allowing you to be around people without being like, Well, you guys stay away from me or something like that. Go back to the old normal kind of thing. Vicki: Well, how about a new and better normal! (laughing and agreement) And Missy, Did you have any thing to add to that question? What are you hopeful about?

Missy: I like, what Cleo just said about the mask thing. I've joked around with students before that. I don't know what they really look like because some students have their masks on this entire time so, you know, next year coming into school I will be going, Who are you? I'm really looking forward to seeing smile and facial expressions. Being able to, you know, look at somebody's affect and know kind of what's going on with them without having to drill them with 500 questions. Definitely looking forward to that and a lot of stuff actually for these guys anyway, I'm looking forward to the hops and the proms and the get-togethers and the parties then in being able to be regular teenagers.

Vicki: laughing....that sounds great! Missy: Doesn't it?! Vicki: I am hopeful for a lot of outdoor activity and good healthy food from the farmers market. And a lot of hugs. I think we're going to get back to Hugging, so I'm hopeful for that. So I want to thank you all for taking the time to talk with me today and or community. You shared some very insightful information that I hope will generate some thought and conversation amongst our community members. So thank you. And hopefully we'll talk again soon and maybe get some hugs. (Laughing)

Everyone: All right!

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Alger County Communities That Care, promoting a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults. Hope you tune into our next episode. For more information on the AC3, visit us online at Alger CTC.org. Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or snap MSU, as an affirmative action equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs. And the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or veteran status issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work acts of May eighth and June 30th, 1914 in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or biased against those not mentioned.


Related Series