School of Thought

mental health organization offers mindfulness training

Lauren Fisher

Brenda Scheurer, director of the Mental Health Matters Coalition, was moved when she read that more than one in four Chippewa County middle and high school students had felt so sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in the previous year that they had stopped doing some normal activities.  This is data was collected in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2017.  The YRBS addresses issues such as physical health, bullying, nutrition, and depression among middle and high school students.

Mental Health Matters is a grant-funded organization established in 2015 to promote resilience for Chippewa Valley Youth in order to improve general mental health in the Valley.  The coalition, which is made up of representatives of more than 20 local healthcare, education, and government groups, aims to use education and awareness, data, and mindfulness in order to meet this end.

In 2018 the program will provide mindfulness training to staff members from up to two Eau Claire or Chippewa County middle or high schools.  Training will include support and resources to implement mindfulness practices in the classroom.  This training will be offered annually for five years.  Applications for consideration for the program are open now through March 30.

A 2014-2015 community health assessment for the Chippewa Valley indicated that mental health was a top priority among Eau Claire Co. residents.  Of respondents, 60 percent said that mental health was a moderate or major problem.

Peggy O’Halloran (left) and Brenda Scheurer (right) are the minds behind Mental Health Matters
Peggy O’Halloran (left) and Brenda Scheurer (right) are the minds behind Mental Health Matters.

Mental Health Matters was established through a $1 million grant from the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment from the Medical College of Wisconsin.The grant process includes three phases: a planning phase, an implementation phase, and a sustainability phase.  During the planning phase, ten communities, including Eau Claire, developed a results-oriented strategy to improve behavioral wellness.  Now, during the five-year implementation phase, Mental Health Matters is carrying out their plans.  After this period is over, Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin will assess the progress made, and the program may move into the third stage, which focuses on ensuring the community continues to benefit from the efforts made.

“There is some research to show that by teaching the staff around the kids, that has a big impact on environment,” Peggy O’Halloran, project evaluator, said. The program’s mindfulness training will focus on middle and high school staff members, helping them improve focus and handle stress.  Many adults working in schools experience “compassion fatigue,” according to Scheurer, which is a problem that might be alleviated by this training.  Staff members will then learn how to pass these skills on to students.

“There seems to be a level of stress that we didn’t have when we were young,” O’Halloran said.  By improving the school environment through mindfulness training, Mental Health Matters hopes to change that.  “It really has been fantastic to see how people are coming together for this cause,” Scheurer said.

More information about Mental Health Matters can be found online at www.cvmentalhealthmatters.org.  Those interested in the school mindfulness training program can contact Brenda Scheurer via email at brenda.scheurer@co.eau-claire.wi.us or by calling 715-577-3460.

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