“If you have been balancing on a surfboard for a year, your body and brain need some powerful self-care” declared Eric Mares, the Clinical Director of Taos Behavioral Health (TBH). Parents, teachers, social services professionals, and students are all exhausted by the repeated changes in health advice and the changing availability of interventions to save our lives.
At TBH, we have continually adapted to the needs of our clients and their access to resources. During the 2020-2021 school year we leased the Christian Academy building and organized our youth clients in stable pods of 4 with one adult to keep them protected per CDC guidelines. We were attentive to their educational, emotional, and physical needs in this setting by providing creative physical activities, individual and group therapy, and support for accessing the school district’s Canvass Program for online learning.
We followed protocols for identifying possible cases of COVID and gathered information on any outbreaks in families. Youth in the exposed pod were then quarantined for 10 days before returning to on site services. In the interim, TBH clinical staff reached out to youth to provide telephone and text support. We became skilled at creative communication—learning when best to call each family and how to report the need for more intensive services when we identified emergency needs. Both staff and clients experienced continual demands for creativity, compassion, and honesty.
New challenges in school
As the 2021-2022 school year has begun, school staff are scrambling to keep students and staff as safe as possible. Staggering dismissal times, keeping classes separate during lunch times and in hallway passing has been critical to maintaining each classroom as a separate pod. When a positive case is identified that classroom is quarantined, and creative support is activated. Such actions are obviously more realistic to implement in the elementary schools than in the middle and high school settings. As noted in the Taos News September 9 edition, most schools in the district have been dealing with a small number of cases—most often first reported by parents.
When such a case arises and a quarantine is implemented, for students who are already TBH clients, our staff immediately activate support by delivering educational packets, food, and adaptive methods of communication to prevent further stress.
Such realities require everyone to understand the importance of self-care— we teach those principles to our clients. Staff and families are continually asked to change—often with inadequate time or resources. It takes great energy to be as adaptive as needed and the principles of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) have provided great guidance. We teach our clients and staff:
Self-awareness of emotions and actions
Lessons in how to stop or calm negative impulses
Being aware of others
Being responsible for decisions
These skills are basic to one’s survival and success in this period of great stress.
Behavioral health services are more important
The experience of the last 20 months has created a great need for more behavioral health services. Some school districts have recognized the need by collaborating with TBH in a tiered intervention program. The Penasco district has just instituted such a prevention/intervention program which will provide support in all classrooms. Presentations on behavioral health skills will be followed by support for identified needs in education, physical health, housing, food, and social emotional crises. Clinical services will be offered for families needing that intervention.
When stress is this high and universal—self-care is needed by everyone. Somehow finding that time to call or text a caring friend or relative, taking that cleansing walk outside, learning how to initiate a relaxation response technique, –no matter how briefly—is a recognition of reality and an investment in self. At TBH we will be your partner in this process for youth, adults, and families. We are all in this together.
TBH has the largest credentialed and licensed behavioral health staff in northern New Mexico. We can be reached at 575-578-4297, www.taosbehavioralhealth.org, or at 105 Bertha St. in Taos for scheduled appointments.
Mary McPhail Gray is the Board Co-Chair of TBH and can be reached at 575-779-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.