SUNNYSIDE — Avalon Valencia, Class of 2010 Grizzly alumni and now a school-based mental health therapist partnered with Comprehensive Healthcare and Sunnyside High School, recalled in her pursuit of becoming a first-generation college student was that she could have benefited from talking to someone about the anxieties she was feeling only a decade ago.
“People don’t realize that anxiety is exhausting, or they do realize it, but they think, well, that’s just a part of life, Valencia described. “Just like we go to school to learn… therapy can help to learn things about what we feel.”
She believes the integration of mental health into Sunnyside High School has assisted in reducing the stigma associated with treatment. When the program started a few years ago, Valencia observed how students were apprehensive at first about being out in the waiting area and having classmates see them and not really knowing why they’re sitting in the counseling center.
“After a while, I would hear them telling one another, ‘Oh, that’s my therapist,’ not even my counselor,” she noted. “‘I go to therapy.’ They would bring people over to me directly and we would get them enrolled in services.”
According to Valencia, their office has made a seamless and positive online connection with students for ensuring that they are not alone when it comes to dealing with mental health issues during COVID-19 and forcing the closure of school. Maintaining accessibility beyond her normal working hours with her 30 to 50 students is one of the key elements in Comprehensive evidence-based programs.
Valencia sees a big difference in the students of today and how they are more interactive and socially engaged. She explained they’re comfortable in communicating and expressing their feelings to her in a “brave space,” during a weekly and bi-weekly or every other week, one-hour session, adjusted to their availability and prescribed care.
“I make it very clear from the beginning that we’re here for you. We work for you,” Valencia adamantly stated. She emphasized the importance of providing a high standard of treatment which considers their overall well-being in a collaborative effort. This two-way dialogue adds to strengthening the relationship and effectiveness of treatment, she said.
The therapist described her range of treatment includes seeing students who are dealing with depression and more than half of her case load is working with traumatic instances from the past.
She also explained how the social, emotional and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to place stressful influences upon students and their families, along with community residents’ well-being, is adding to raising awareness for mental healthcare and the need for more services in the lower valley.
“In the coming months, it has been forecasted that there will be increased need for mental health services because of the implications that COVID-19 has had on our communities,” Ph.D., President and CEO of Comprehensive Healthcare Jodi Daly announced.
Comprehensive Healthcare was recently awarded the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Expansion Grant in the amount of $1.99 million. The funds will serve to increase access to services for individuals with serious mental illness and substance use disorders throughout the Yakima Service area over a two-year project.
“It’s very holistic the work that we do,” Valencia reaffirmed as she sometimes sees family members as part of the session. “When we coordinate with other services, we try to be very transparent that we’re here to help to keep things together and treat whatever the needs are.”