SALT LAKE CITY When a child is going through a mental health crisis, their education can take a back seat.
A local hospital helps students heal while they continue their schoolwork.
Sophia Couzins is just one person who has benefited from the efforts of the University Academy of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
Couzins goes everywhere with her Goldendoodle, Winnie.
He is the best thing in my life. “Without him, I don’t think I’d be here today,” Couzins said.
He was 13 years old when he started struggling.
I just changed schools, which I think made me feel a little anxious,” Couzins said.
Depression struck and he couldn’t concentrate at school.
So it was very overwhelming to think about the things I had to do to catch up,” she said.
After opening up to a school counselor, Couzins got treatment.
“I ended up at Teen Scope.”
A classroom at the Huntsman Health Institute
He remained on school duty in the classroom at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. University Academy is one of the few accredited schools of its kind in the country. Crisjon Solano is the principal.
University Academy is a private charter school that serves our three-day care and youth care programs, Solano said.
Teachers work closely with students, their care teams and parents.
I wouldn’t go into a classroom for the first time in probably a month, Couzins said.
Solano said the kids come from an environment where they are not motivated.
Once they get here, we can start slowly. Meet them where they are, Solano said.
With Solano’s help, Couzins was able to take small steps to enter the classroom for the duration of the class. He developed a love for art therapy.
It was quiet and you could create whatever you wanted, he said.
The academy coordinates with the students’ elementary school and the district.
We contact the school and ask “how is this child doing academically?” “How are they in relationships?”
Students have faced mental health challenges in their regular schools.
These children do not see themselves as learners; Learning is hard for them, or they like the learning part, but the social side of school and some of the pressures there are incredibly hard for them, Solano said.
One in five U.S. children has a mental disorder, and youth suicide attempts have risen over the past decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to a report by Clarify Health, the number of mental health hospitalizations increased by 124 percent from 2016 to 2022.
Connections at school are important
Dr. Aaron Fischer is a professor of school psychology and psychiatry at the University of Utah.
School connections are really important, he said.
He said schools play a significant role in a child’s recovery in a hospital or traditional classroom setting.
Getting them to work together is part of her mission with the Utah School Mental Health Collaborative.
I think the systems don’t always communicate with each other. And I think that’s one of the pieces that we’re trying to do, Fischer said.
It’s important for parents to prepare kids to succeed so they’re ready to return to the classroom, and making sure the school has a plan, Fischer says.
After attending University Academy, Couzins earned his GED and his path led him to Salt Lake Community College.
With Teddy by his side, he studies to get to the finals.
“He knows when I’m stressed and he’ll put his head on my knee,” Couzins said.
The 4.0 student says he wants to become an EMT, something he never imagined.
I’ve worked really hard to be here and I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to do.”
In addition to HMHI, families have access to many resources – even families living in rural areas of the state. You can start here: u-tteclab.com/utah-smh-collaborative.html.
- SafeUT: Parents, students and teachers can contact their licensed crisis counselor via chat by downloading SafeUT application or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-3388)
- SafeUT Frontline: First responders including firefighters, law enforcement, 911 and healthcare professionals can talk to a licensed crisis counselor for free 24/7/365 by downloading SafeUT Frontline application.
- SafeUTNG: National Guard members can talk to a licensed crisis counselor for free 24/7/365 by downloading SafeUTNG application.
- Utah’s warm line: In non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear while you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide range of programs and services, including suicide prevention and crisis services, inpatient care, therapy and medication management, substance use and addiction recovery, child and adolescent programs, and maternal mental health services, including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood- and anxiety disorders.
- LiveOnUtah.org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They provide resources for faith-based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, gun-suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.
Utah counties offer services for mental health and substance abuse treatment. The centers are operated by thirteen local mental health and substance abuse agencies across the state and offer treatment, substance abuse treatment, support groups, mobile services, youth treatment and more.
These resources and more information can be found here: https://www.uacnet.org/behavioralhealth.
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