OCMH September 2023 Newsletter

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OCMH September 2023 Newsletter

Kids Feeling Connected as they Return to School

Back to school

Back to school means different things for different people. For OCMH, particularly in the midst of the youth mental health crisis, we focus on the importance of school belonging and school connectedness.

Why this is important

Kids who feel they belong at school have better mental health. Students who participate in extracurriculars and feel connected to their school are less likely to report depression. Here school connectedness acts as a protective factor. This held true even during the pandemic when kids were virtually connected to school. And this protective impact extends into adulthood. Research found school connectedness in adolescence reduced a number of mental health issues and risky behaviors well in adulthood.

Why we are concerned

School belonging is on the decline in Wisconsin. According to the 2021 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, 60% of high school students feel they belong at school. This has noticeably declined over the last five years from 70%. And there are notable disparities by race, with kids of color feeling less like they belong at school than their white peers. Less than half of Asian and Multiracial students feel they belong at their school (65% of White youth feel they belong compared to 58% Black, 51% Hispanic, 45% Asian, and 44% Multiracial).

When discussing school belonging and youth connectedness, we have to note that good teen friendships are invaluable. The quality of teen friendships can predict physical and mental health in adulthood. Additionally, quality relationships among teens is a far better predictor of long-term outcomes than even the quality of teens’ relationships with their parents.

What we can do

Parents can encourage their children to get involved in an extracurricular activity such as sports, theater, or an afterschool club. Educators can work to ensure every student has a connection to at least one trusted adult in the school. Schools can also foster a positive, welcoming, inclusive school culture. Community organizations can foster belonging in afterschool programming by focusing on relationships and social emotional learning.  

See related OCMH Fact Sheets:

Lived Experience Insights

Crystal Long

The Stress that Back-to-School Can Bring

OCMH Lived Experience Partner Crystal Long shares her insights on the challenges of back-to-school time. 

The start of a new school year is always filled with so many feelings. For me it is a moving range of stress, relief, sadness, fear, and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Feeling stressed happens because there are so many things to do – shopping for clothes, shoes, and school supplies; registration; meet the teacher night; thinking about who will be by our children’s side to help when they struggle and if they will have a friend; meetings, daily calls, or emails; rearranging daycare and work hours for transportation needs; homework; and just hoping this year will be successful.

We can feel relief at the fact that with our children back in school, we can have a little bit of time to be alone, to hold an adult conversation, shop, make a phone call in silence, or just sit with ourselves. Then we also can feel sadness for feeling that relief. I know I felt that, sometimes so profoundly I couldn’t bring myself to do anything without my kids with me. So, I would wait to take them along. It does take time to adjust to being alone.

Then those feelings can turn to fear – fear of realizing things about yourself that you did not notice before because you didn’t have time to focus on yourself and pay attention to how some things made you feel. I know for me I realized I didn’t know how to hold conversations that didn’t revolve around the children and the anxiety that kept me from being in stores alone. That in itself is a lot to sit with, but I also had fears of another phone call or “nasty gram” from a teacher sharing yet another negative thing about my child. And, because it is all coming at you at once, it can feel overwhelming.

Take one challenge at a time

It is OK to feel whatever it is that you feel. Take one challenge at a time, and you will get through it. I’m not sure who said it, but the old saying, “the more you do, the better you get” is absolutely right. Eventually you will find your way through the stress and you’ll be able to see the progress you’ve made. You will start understanding what does and doesn’t work for your family and, in a way, you will be creating your own data. This will lead to successful outcomes for your family.

Realize there is a big picture. One day you will wake up, the school year will be at a close, and all that related stress will be over. For me, this is the last school year for my family as three of my four children have successfully graduated. When I think back, I can’t even believe how far we have come. Enjoy the little moments and the small successes, because before you know it will all be your major success.

My advice

Find ways to get your frustrations out before they build to an unmanageable disaster. In my car I’ve cried and screamed on the way to the school pick up so when I arrived I would be calmer and in a place where I could listen and work through any challenges.

Look for things that help you. I pull weeds to gain a little bit of control and instant gratification when things don’t seem to be going in my direction (and I get a lot of complements on my tanned skin). I also sit in my car for a little while extra before going in to my house, work, or the store, just to get a moment of calm. My car is my safe space – as I mentioned, a place to scream, cry, blast music, and sing along (even though I have a terrible voice). Find your safe place and be who you need to be at that moment to get through whatever challenge you are going through.

Finally, reach out to your closest friends or family or an organization that offers parental support. You are not alone, you just have to find the people who can help you.

Seeking Input on the Mental Health Literacy Units of Instruction

MH Literacy

In 2021, OCMH partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to create Mental Health Literacy Units of Instruction for elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. The lesson plans focus on developing the skills that students need to maintain their mental health and well-being, as well as how to recognize and support others who may be struggling. The creation of the curriculum was a collaborative process including Wisconsin educators, parents, youth, and mental health experts. The Mental Health Literacy Instructional Units were released in 2022.

Share your thoughts

Curriculum creators want to ensure the Mental Health Literacy Instructional Units are meeting the needs of schools, students, families, and their communities and invite you to share your thoughts in this new survey.  Wisconsin school staff who complete the survey by Friday, October 13 will be entered to win a $15 e-gift card.

Learn more

Are you curious to learn more about the classroom lessons and additional resources? Join one of two upcoming webinars to better understand the Mental Health Literacy Units of Instruction:

Why this is important

  • Youth have told us in our Youth Listening Sessions that they want mental health education taught across all grades.
  • 93% of teachers want a greater focus on social-emotional learning in schools.
  • 87% of parents across the country support mental health education in schools.

Suicide Prevention Month - Amidst a Record Number of Suicide Deaths there is a Drop in Suicides among Youth Ages 10-24

Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide last year, an all-time high number. The data suggests suicides are more common in the U.S. than any time since World War II.

While suicide is a complex issue often with many factors leading up to someone ending their life, experts say a main driver is the growing availability of guns. A recent Johns Hopkins University analysis shows that the gun suicide rate has steadily risen since 2006 to the current record level.

Deepening the problem, it’s estimated that for every suicide, at least 135 people are directly impacted, a traumatic ripple effect. For children, if they know someone who has died by suicide, it is critical that we encircle youth with trauma-informed care, teaching, and community. Launched last year, the 988 crisis line is a big step forward in suicide prevention by its providing trained mental health specialists who can help people work through a crisis (be it emotional, financial, relational, or other).

The CDC numbers included some hopeful news. There was a large drop (8%) in suicides among youth ages 10 to 24 last year. This may be due to increased attention on the youth mental health crisis, the release of 988, and the growing emphasis for school-based mental health.

Wisconsin is working to raise awareness of hope, help, and resources. As part of a statewide approach to reduce suicide and promote well-being, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has joined a nationwide push to reduce suicide and adolescent self-harm over the next five years. DHS is using a variety of strategies and tactics to reduce suicide in the state and highlighting actions that individuals can take.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month

All month, we can unite to promote suicide prevention awareness by sharing resources, materials, and messaging. DHS urges every Wisconsinite to help suicide prevention by promoting the 988 talk/text line, volunteering locally, and being compassionate in their home, work, and community. People can also be there for a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor in crisis by taking these five action steps (Ask, Be There, Help Keep Them Safe, Help Them Connect, and Follow Up).

We encourage further reading:


Governor Evers Issues Proclamation

View the proclamation from Governor Tony Evers declaring September 2023 as Suicide Prevention Month.


Pause sticker

Teen Graphic Designers Create Pause Campaign for Suicide Prevention 

For the second year in a row, ArtWorks for Milwaukee's Graphic Design + Mental Health Advocacy interns have partnered with OCMH to research, design, and distribute a statewide campaign for National Suicide Prevention Week. Please enjoy this video to learn more about the interns' creation process, and to hear all about the artwork from the artists themselves. Download and share the Pause Campaign images from the OCMH website here. This week, and every week, we hope you take time to #pause4amoment. 

OCMH Updates

OCMH Uses New Email Program

With this newsletter, OCMH is using GovDelivery as its email communications program. So, you’re seeing a different format in our communications. GovDelivery is a familiar program to many subscribing to state agency communications – it is used by the Department of Health Services (DHS) and many other state agencies.

We migrated our existing newsletter list into GovDelivery, so there is no need for those on our distribution to do anything – you are automatically receiving our newsletter.

We welcome new subscribers. There are two ways to sign up:

  1. Via our website – click here for that.
  2. Via GovDelivery – click here. This link goes directly to the OCMH Newsletter list. If you aren’t an existing subscriber in GovDelivery you will need to establish a password in the system. That will allow you to sign up for other DHS communications and manage those sign-ups. 

New Monthly Communication on Youth Mental Health in the News

In the next couple of months we will offer a new monthly email communication spotlighting recent articles, resources, and research findings impacting youth mental health. “Research News in Youth Mental Health” is prepared by OCMH Senior Research Analyst Amy Marsman and currently is included as part of the monthly OCMH newsletter. That will be pulled out of the newsletter into its own monthly publication allowing a wider audience to be aware of this great resource and subscribe. We anticipate this change will occur in November.

So, if you have enjoyed reviewing this list of important children’s mental health articles, make sure to subscribe for that now. Click here to do that. This link will take you directly to the sign-up for “Research News in Youth Mental Health.” Again, if you aren’t already a GovDelivery subscriber you will need to establish a password in the system.

We encourage you to share this subscription link with others who may like to receive this great resource.



Leap into Wellness Youth Mental Health Summit

Hall of Fame Packers star LeRoy Butler is hosting the Leap into Wellness Youth Mental Health Summit in Milwaukee on Saturday, October 28. OCMH is sponsoring the event to provide resources to attendees at the free event! Read more about the summit, designed for teens ages 13 to 17, and share the registration link with families in your network.

Legislative & Policy Updates

"Choices in Childcare" Bill Package

The Legislature is having hearings and votes on a "Choices in Childcare" bill package. Six of the eight proposals relate to children's well-being. Several childcare policy experts have raised concerns that these proposals are not grounded in research, data, or best practice and argue that these changes could actually result in diminishing the childcare workforce and quality of care. Groups tracking the proposed legislation anticipate facility closures and tuition increases if the policies were implemented. With quality childcare being critical to children's mental health and later success in school, changes to childcare regulation are important to watch. 

On September 12, Governor Tony Evers launched a legislative survey of the full Wisconsin State Legislature, asking all 132 legislators to take public positions and answer questions on the merits of the governor’s comprehensive plan to address the state’s longstanding workforce challenges, including whether legislators support investments to increase access to affordable child care and prevent the child care industry’s collapse, expand paid family leave, educate and train future workers, and support high-need workforce sectors statewide. 

The bills in the Choices in Childcare package include:

  • Assembly Bill 387(Goeben/Quinn) – This bill would establish a childcare reimbursement account program allowing a parent/legal guardian to create a tax-advantaged account with a contribution up to $10,000/year to pay for "qualifying expenses" for the cost of care for a dependent child under 13 years old.  Anyone could contribute to the account with permission and contributions could be deducted for state income purposes.  A person could not establish an account if they or their spouse participates in an employer-sponsored dependent care assistance program that excludes income used to pay dependent care expenses for federal income tax purposes. 
  • Assembly Bill 388 / LRB-3161 (Hurd/James) – This bill would create a revolving loan program for licensed childcare providers to make renovations to their facilities. 60% of the loans would go to in-home licensed childcare providers with 40% going to licensed childcare providers that are not in-home. An in-home childcare provider could receive up to $30,000 per loan, and a licensed childcare provider that is not in-home could receive up to $100,000 per loan. The loans would be interest free.
  • Assembly Bill 389 (LRB-3168 / LRB-4239)(Goeben/Ballweg) – This bill would create a separate category of licensed "large family childcare centers” for centers that supervise 4-12 children. These centers would be regulated like other childcare centers, except that for groups of 9-12 children two employees would be required to provide care at all times. It would increase from two to eight the number of children two years of age or younger that they could serve.
  • Assembly Bill 390 / No SB (LRB-3294 / LRB-4237) (Goeben/Ballweg) – This bill would modify existing rules to lower the minimum age for an assistant childcare teacher or school-age group leader from 17 to 16 and lower the minimum age from 18 to 16 for an assistant childcare teacher or school-age group leader who can provide sole supervision for a group of children. The bill would also remove the restrictions that a supervising assistant childcare teacher may provide sole supervision to a group of children in full-day centers only during opening and closing hours and during the center's designated naptime and only for up to two hours. It would also remove the restriction that a supervising school-age group leader or assistant childcare teacher can provide sole supervision to a group of school-age children only for up to 45 minutes.
  • Assembly Bill 391 / LRB 4238 (Goeben/Ballweg) – This bill would modify administrative rules to increase the number of children in the ratio of the minimum number of childcare workers to children in a group childcare center and also increase the maximum number of children per age who can be in a group childcare center. The bill would also allow a group childcare center to adjust its ratio of childcare workers to children to match the average ratio of teachers to pupils in the school district where the group childcare center is located.
  • Assembly Bill 392 (Goeben/Quinn) – This bill would allow certified care operators receiving payment under Wisconsin Shares to care for up to six children under the age of seven, regardless of whether the children are related to the operator. Under current Department of Children and Families (DCF) rules, a person certified by DCF, called a certified childcare operator, may care for up to three children who are unrelated to the operator and up to six children in total. Under current rules a certified care operator may provide care for four or more children under the age of seven for less than 24 hours a day.  A person who provides care for fewer than four children under the age of seven for less than 24 hours a day may receive Wisconsin Shares payments if the person is certified by DCF.

Relevant Committees Action

On September 6, Assembly Bill 228 by Rep. Steffen (R) and Sen. Cabral-Guevara (R) was approved by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee along party lines. The bill would rename Wisconsin's "Earned Income Tax Credit" as the "Earned Income Childcare Credit." It makes no further material change to the program itself. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program is an important program for Wisconsin children. According to Centers for Disease Control data, the EITC program as currently structured statistically reduces behavioral problems among low-income children.   

New Assembly Task Forces Announced on Truancy and Human Trafficking

At the end of August, Speaker Vos announced the creation of two task forces with potential implications for the mental health of children in our state. The announced groups are:

  • Speaker’s Task Force on Truancy (Rep. Binsfeld, chair; Rep. Drake, vice-chair) – The stated goal of this task force is: Recognizing the impact of truancy on educational attainment and future opportunities, the Speaker's Task Force on Truancy in K-12 Education will work to identify root causes and implement effective interventions. The members of the task force will examine the relationship between truancy and student academic success, evaluate the current practices to hold parents and schools accountable for student attendance, and increase awareness and resources, ensuring every child has access to quality education and a promising future.
  • Speaker’s Task Force on Human Trafficking (Rep. O’Connor, chair; Rep. Emerson, vice-chair) – The stated goal of this task force is to create a society where the safety and well-being of every person are paramount and where exploitation has no place. The task force will explore innovative solutions to combat human trafficking through prevention, supporting and empowering survivors, and prosecuting traffickers.

*Note on LRB Drafts: The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) prepares all legislation for the Wisconsin Legislature. Before a bill has been assigned to a committee and given a bill number, it can be identified by the LRB draft number.

Children's Mental Health in the News


OCMH Senior Research Analyst Amy Marsman spotlights recent articles, resources, and research findings impacting youth mental health.

Large drop in youth suicide in 2022 (Article)

The highest number of suicides ever recorded in the U.S., for all ages, was in 2022. But for the 10-24 age group there was a notable decline in the number of suicides. That may be due to increased attention to youth mental health issues and a push for schools and others to focus on the problem, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said. However, according to a recent Johns Hopkins University analysis of the data, for the first time, the gun suicide rate among Black teens surpassed the rate among white teens. The Black youth suicide rate has tripled over the past two decades (2003-2022). Experts caution that suicide is complicated, and that recent increases might be driven by a range of factors, including higher rates of depression and limited availability of mental health services. But a main driver is the growing availability of guns.

 Screen Time Is Contributing to Chronic Sleep Deprivation in Tweens and Teens (Article)

A growing body of research is finding strong links between sleep, mental health, and screen time in teens and tweens. Amid an unprecedented mental health crisis in which some 42% of adolescents in the U.S. are suffering from mental health issues, teens are also getting too little sleep.

Research has long shown a clear relationship between mental health and sleep: Poor sleep can lead to poor mental health and vice versa. People with depression and anxiety commonly have insomnia, a condition in which people have trouble falling or staying asleep, or both, or getting refreshing sleep. That ongoing sleep deprivation further worsens the very depression and anxiety that caused the insomnia in the first place.

What’s more, insomnia and poor-quality sleep may also blunt the benefits of therapy and medication. At its worst, chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of suicide. One study found that just one hour less sleep during the week was associated with “significantly greater odds of feeling hopeless, seriously considering suicide, suicide attempts and substance use.”

In a crisis, schools are 100,000 mental health staff short (Article)

It would take 77,000 more school counselors, 63,000 more school psychologists and probably tens of thousands of school social workers to reach levels recommended by professional groups before the pandemic hit. The demand for aid radically exceeds the supply of help. Providers are experimenting with how to address the emergency. As a result of the workforce shortage, pediatricians have become the default mental health provider. In one state, two-thirds of mental health claims in 2019 were made by primary-care clinicians.

bright spot on the landscape is the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act which committed $500 million over five years to ramp up the pipeline for school psychologists, counselors and social workers. That money is coupled with a second $500 million for efforts to recruit, retain, and train staff for those positions. The same law steers another $1 billion for school districts to promote safe and healthy learning environments, combat violence and hate, prevent, and respond to bullying.

One survey found nearly 40% of teens were bullied, and nearly 40% of teens find it challenging to talk to their parents about exclusion and loneliness. While the vast majority of parents would turn to teachers for resources to help with bullying, very few teens say they would do the same. The Choose Kindness Project, an alliance of organizations, releases actionable resources, communication tools, and a playbook to help parents, coaches, and educators with bullying prevention, intentional inclusion, and youth mental wellness.

Children underestimate their random acts of kindness (Article)

Children, like adults, tend to underestimate how welcome their random acts of kindness will be on others. In this study, the vast majority of the people of all ages said they felt better after giving a single pencil to a stranger. Findings show that doing good feels good, both for those who do good deeds and those who benefit directly from those actions. The authors were able to show that the tendency to misunderstand how much good small acts of kindness can do begins early in life, with children. More attention should be paid to learning what the social consequences of this failure to appreciate small acts of kindness. Research continues to show that connecting with others is good for your health.

ERs Are Flooded With Kids in Mental Health Crisis, U.S. Doctors' Groups Warn (Article)

America’s emergency rooms (ER) are being flooded by children suffering from psychiatric emergencies like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts, a new joint report from three influential groups of pediatricians and emergency medicine providers. The leading medical associations are pleading for more support and resources as the number of children and teenagers with mental health concerns overwhelm emergency departments nationwide.

One doctor said that the number of kids seeking psychiatric emergency care in her ER has grown from approximately 30 a month in recent years to 30 a day.

In their statement on overwhelmed ERs, the clinicians call for systemic changes, more resources, and a focus on inequities. The statement and an accompanying technical report are published in the September 2023 Pediatrics. Policy statements created by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are written by medical experts, reflect the latest evidence in the field, and go through several rounds of peer review before being approved by the AAP Board of Directors and published in Pediatrics.

Parents see own health spiral as their kids' mental illnesses worsen (Article)

A national shortage of mental health care providers, and the search for affordable care, has exacerbated strain on parents, often the primary caregivers who maintain the health and well-being of their children. Their day-to-day struggle has led to its own health crisis, say psychologists, researchers, and advocates for families. As parents navigate the mental health care system's shortcomings, stress can start to take a physical and mental health toll that disrupts their ability to continue providing care. Parents pour their energy into helping their kids, often at the expense of their own health.

Evidence-based therapies to address a child's mental health should include the parents, say researchers and pediatric mental health specialists. But the focus on the adult caregivers and their anxiety and stress too often falls short. For example, parent-child interaction therapy coaches parents to manage their young child's behavior to prevent more severe problems in the child later on. While this may help the child, it doesn't directly support the parent's health.

Of Interest

MOST Award

Awards Recognize Out-of-School Time Excellence

The Madison Out-of-School Time (MOST) collaboration recently recognized 12 outstanding youth workers for their dedication and creativity in supporting youth. The awards were presented on August 30, 2023.

Among the 12 MOST award winners was Aza Muzorewa, a decade-long leader in the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center After School program. Aza has been a part of OCMH Director Linda Hall's extended family for over 30 years and Aza’s Mama Linda since the passing of his mother. Linda is not only proud of Aza, but amazed at his commitment to the kids at Wil-Mar and this critical work in a profession that is so underpaid. The photo shows Aza with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway who along with Madison Metropolitan School District Interim Superintendent Lisa Kvistad presented the award.

Congratulations to MOST for recognizing excellence in this work and to all the award winners.


Resource for Families Experiencing the Child Welfare Process

As of July 1, 2023 a unified program providing services to parents and caregivers partnering to raise children and youth through kinship care, foster care, and post-permanency, including reunification, guardianship, and adoption is available. The Wisconsin Family Connections Center (WiFCC) is the new program that has merged the Foster Care and Adoption Resource Center (FCARC) and Wisconsin Adoption and Permanency Support Program (WiAPS) initiatives. The transition from FCARC and WiAPS to the WiFCC will continue over the next several months, but there will be no lapse in in-person, phone and email support and referrals, support groups, or other necessary programming during the transition period.

The WiFCC will provide equitable, culturally responsive services statewide. There will be particular focus on increasing the availability of services for those who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ and/or BIPOC; reunified families; relative and like-kin caregivers; and youth over age 10. The WiFCC is available to anyone with past or present involvement in the child welfare system including:

  • Parents whose children are placed out of the home
  • Parents whose children reunified
  • Parents whose parental rights were terminated
  • Parents creating an adoption plan
  • Relative caregivers
  • Like-kin caregivers
  • Foster parents
  • Pre-adoptive and adoptive parents
  • Guardians
  • Professionals working with the above-named individuals

The WiFCC will provide, at a minimum, these services: 

  • Information, referrals, and support via phone, email, or in person
  • Trainings
  • Conferences
  • Support groups
  • Free family events
  • Short-term case management

For more information, contact the Wisconsin Family Connections Center at 1.800.762.8063. 


Back-to-School Resources from MHA

Mental Health America has a Back-to-School toolkit – "Selfies, Social, & Screens: Navigating Virtual Spaces for Youth." This resource provides educational information and tips on how to tackle some of the most common online stressors for youth, like social comparison, body image, misinformation, and cyberbullying. Access the toolkit.


Teen Depression Resource

The National Institute of Mental Health has fact sheets for teens and young adults sharing information on how to recognize the symptoms of depression and get help. See and share these valuable resources.


Addressing Health Disparities Grants Available

Marshfield Clinic Health System and Security Health Plan are awarding up to $10,000 grants for programs to improve health equity for underserved or marginalized populations. The program is called Addressing Health Disparities and tax-exempt and government agencies serving communities within the Health System service area are encouraged to apply. Deadline is October, 9, 2023. For information.

OCMH Team and Council Updates


Lived Experience Partners

The first Lived Experience Academy Affinity Group Connection Call took place in August. Ten parents attended to discuss either the topic of substance use or education. Participants appreciated the opportunity to connect with their peers and shared the following takeaways:

  • “It’s nice to know people are in the same boat. It can be lonely.”
  • “I can learn something from everyone.”
  • “This gave me hope.”

On Thursday, September 28 the Connection Call will be held at noon with breakout room topics of mental health and where to find help/resources. Lived experts who did not receive a calendar invitation, please contact Andrea.Turtenwald@wi.gov.

Advisory Council - The next quarterly meeting of the Advisory Council will be Friday, October 20, 2023.

Collective Impact Council - The next quarterly meeting of the Collective Impact Council will be Friday, November 3, 2023.

Social Connectedness of Youth Teams - Meetings for OCMH Social Connectedness of Youth Teams (Cultural Identity/Community, Family, and Supportive Adult) will re-convene in September after the summer break.

What parents and caregivers can do about social media