Utah hospital helping students heal from mental health issues while staying on top of schoolwork
Dec 17, 2023, 10:29 PM | Updated: 10:42 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — When a child is going through a mental health crisis, their education can take a back seat.
One local hospital is helping students heal while staying on top of their schoolwork.
Sophia Couzins is just one person who has benefited from the efforts of those at the University Academy at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
Couzins goes everywhere with her Goldendoodle, Winnie.
“She’s the best thing in my life. Without her, I don’t think I’d be here today,” Couzins said.
She was 13 years old when she started struggling.
“I just switched schools which I think made me feel a little bit anxious,” Couzins said.
Depression set in and she couldn’t concentrate at school.
“So, it was super overwhelming to think about 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.”
Classroom at Huntsman Health Institute
She stayed on top of schoolwork in a classroom at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. University Academy is one of just a handful of accredited schools like this in the country. Crisjon Solano is the principal.
“University Academy is a private, K-12 school that serves our three-day treatment programs and youth residential program,” Solano said.
Teachers work closely with students, their treatment teams and parents.
“I wouldn’t go into the classroom for the first, like, probably month of being there,” Couzins said.
Solano said children come from an environment where they aren’t motivated.
“When they get here, we can start slow. Kind of meet them where they’re at,” Solano said.
With help from Solano, Couzins took small steps to get into the classroom for a whole class period. She developed a love for art therapy.
“It was quiet and you could just create whatever you wanted,” she said.
The academy coordinates with the students’ regular school and district.
“We are contacting the school and asking ‘how is this child doing academically?’ ‘How are they doing interpersonally?’”
Students have been dealing with mental health challenges while at their regular school.
“These kids do not see themselves as learners; Learning is hard for them, or they like the learning part but the social aspect of school and some of the pressures there are incredibly difficult for them,” Solano said.
One in five children in the U.S. have a mental health disorder, and the rate of suicide attempts among youth has risen over the past decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A report from Clarify Health shows, the number of mental health hospitalizations rose 124% 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 connectedness is really important,” he said.
He said schools play a significant role in a child’s recovery – whether in a hospital setting or traditional classroom.
Getting them to work together is part of his mission with the Utah School Mental Health Collaborative.
“I think that the systems don’t always communicate with each other. And i think that’s one of the pieces we’re trying to do,” Fischer said.
Setting up kids for success so they’re ready to return to the classroom is a critical piece for parents, and making sure that the school has a plan in place, Fischer says.
After her time at University Academy, Couzins earned her GED diploma and her path led her to Salt Lake Community College.
With Winnie at her side, she’s studying for finals.
“She kinda knows when I’m feeling stressed, and she’ll come put her head right on my knee,” Couzins said.
The 4.0 student says she wants to become an EMT, something she never imagined.
“I’ve been working really hard to be here and I’m proud of the work that I’ve been able to do.”
There are a ton of resources beyond HMHI that families can access – even for families who live in rural parts of the state. You can start here at: u-tteclab.com/utah-smh-collaborative.html.
- SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-3388)
- SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
- SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
- Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen 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 offer resources for faith based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.
Counties in Utah provide services for mental health and substance use disorders. Centers are run by the thirteen Local Mental Health and Substance Use Authorities all across the state and offer therapy, substance use disorder treatment, support groups, mobile services, youth treatment, and more.
These resources and more information can be found here: https://www.uacnet.org/behavioralhealth.