Originally published in The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram – Dec 27, 2019
Mental health is a growing concern in Dunn County.
Menomonie native and UW-Stout student Katie Jo Walker wants to be part of a solution to help those with mental health needs.
The senior majoring in human development and family studies is looking to spread awareness of mental health issues through advocacy and volunteering, along with tutoring high school students. Her own experience with mental health led her to realize many of the people who need help aren’t getting it.
“It just made me more aware of how much of a need there is for mental health, counselors and advocates to fighting so we have equal rights, so everybody can have access to mental health treatment,” Walker said.
As part of a Dunn County community health needs survey, results show eight of 10 people believe there’s not adequate access to mental health resources in the county.
Walker will earn her degree in May and then is looking to pursue graduate studies at UWStout in clinical mental health counseling. Walker said more can be done at the university to spread awareness of mental health. She said it’s important students understand the data and how they can find help if struggling with mental health issues.
UW-Stout is a partner in the Health Dunn Right community health coalition conference with the Dunn County Health Department, Community Foundation of Dunn County and Mayo Clinic Health Systems.
The university is also looking to create a center for study and promotion of health and well being. The center will increase opportunities for students to be involved in applied learning and research.
Walker has been a volunteer counselor for a nationwide crisis text line since September. People in crisis situations can text the line and be connected with a trained crisis counselor. A counselor’s job is to assess the situation and determine a plan to meet the needs of the individual texting the line.
“I can work with them on either a safety plan to help them stay safe or talk about coping skills to help them cope through the night,” Walker said.
A text line provides a more private way of speaking with a counselor than a phone line, Walker said.
Walker is also helping high school students who plan to attend college understand mental health.
She is a tutor for the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, the online school where she received her high school education. In addition to assisting in academic work, she has conducted presentations on mental health to some of the students going through similar experiences.
She is hoping to share some the skills she has learned through her studies with other students as they venture off to college.
“It was important for me to give back because I know high school can be a struggle in many different ways, academically and even emotionally and mentally,” Walker said. “I wanted to return (to the Wisconsin Virtual Academy) to be a support person and be there if they need a boost or need some encouragement to get through.”
While awareness of mental health is growing, Walker said she’s come to realize how many people are affected and how many don’t receive the support they need.
The first step in helping those struggling with mental health, Walker said, is reaching out for help.
“One of the biggest things I always say is just being willing to reach out for support,” Walker said. “Whether it’s from teachers, counselors, whoever you have in your life who you can get support from — I always say definitely utilize those people that you have.”
To learn more about Wisconsin Virtual Academy, visit http://wiva.k12.com/.