Organization making sure mental health help available for students

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A Minnesota organization is making sure students in St. Paul Public Schools get the mental health help they need during this uncertain time.

Even though school is closed, in many cases mental health help is still open.

"Since school closures, we have kept some of our 10 school-based clinics in St. Paul high schools open, and we have mental health providers and medical providers there," said Shawna Hedlund, Program Director with Health Start Clinics and Minnesota Community Care.

"We know our patients well enough to know that when we don’t meet their essential health needs or there are barriers to their access that their health care and their mental health status can swiftly become critical," Hedlund added.

The program is offering in-person help at a safe distance, at some schools, and is in the process of launching safe, secure and compliant ways to do telehealth.

"What we’re hoping for is that our mental health providers can be at their homes where they are safe and they are practicing social distancing, and they are providing care over the telephone, or they are providing care over video conferencing," Hedlund explained.

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She added: "We have an advantage in a school-based clinic that there are two doorways and so we meet them at the door and then we screen them for any possible signs of infection … and we practice social distancing and we’re being responsible."

Hedlund said the goal is to keep students connected emotionally.

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“We are stepping outside of our normal everyday operations, we’re changing routines," Hedlund said, adding that it’s been a concern for students with mental health conditions, which may be aggravated by the stress of the current situation.

Hedlund wants students to remember to practice social distancing, not emotional distancing.

"We are in a paradigm where we are watching anxiety increase across our globe."

Hedlund recommended students "remain connected, and this might for parents mean you have to change your standards a little bit right now on screen time, allow your kids to use the avenues that they have to stay in touch with their friends, FaceTime with grandparents and connect with each other."

Hedlund said the program continues to work on creative ways to help students with mental health needs during the coronavirus pandemic.