Minnesota Allocating $1.2 Million From IKEA Foundation for Youth Mental Health Services

Minnesota Allocating $1.2 Million From IKEA Foundation for Youth Mental Health Services Click to Enlarge Photo: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

(KNSI) - As the state readies itself for a four-week pause on indoor restaurant service, gym access, organized sports and social gatherings with people outside of one's own household, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday a partnership with IKEA US Community Foundation to help support mental health services for students.

The $1,212,521 donation matches the amount of money the state paid in unemployment insurance to IKEA retail employees at the start of the pandemic, a press release states.

"Those funds are going to provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program, which includes 58 mental health providers covering 1,100 school sites across this state," Walz said. "These providers play a critical role in caring for the health of our children and families, especially now, coping with isolation and the stress that come[s] on with distant learning."

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Legislature diverted $3 million in CARES Act funding toward youth mental health services.

In a Friday press conference, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan addressed the effects on mental health that a monthslong pandemic has on adults and kids.

"We have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime, and being able to lean on one another and ask for additional support is how we will be able to sustain ourselves and get to the other side of this pandemic, Flanagan said.

Julie Hanenburg, executive director of Lighthouse Child and Family Services, remarked that the stress and worries brought on by COVID-19 can significantly impact youth.

"If you're an adult and you're anxious about what's happening around you, let's think about the impact that has on a 10-year-old developing brain, a six-year-old developing brain," Hanenburg said. "We also know that children ages birth to three are at their most crucial stage of brain development; environmental stress impacts them as well."

Hanenburg said she is concerned that though more people say they are more stressed, anxious or depressed during the pandemic, there has not been that same increase in people reaching out for mental health services. There are many factors for this, Hanenburg said, including lack of transportation in rural areas, lack of internet access, preferences for telehealth or in-person services not being met and stigma about seeking mental health care.

Another reason for the lack of referrals is that school staff doing distance learning might not see that some students need those mental health services, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota.

"In Minnesota, teachers are trained to identify the early warning signs of mental illness in children," Abderholden said. "It's harder to really see those signs and symptoms through distance learning, which is why we think that families really need to know what those signs and symptoms are and to know that there are, in fact, resources available out there.

Because mental health providers switched to more telehealth services as the pandemic hit the country, Hanenburg said, the issue of sufficient staffing in hospitals and health clinics in the latest COVID-19 case wave has not hit mental health care providers as hard.

"It's same as distance learning; we're shifting back and forth, but we're doing the best we can. If our staff are quarantined but they're not ill, they can still provide a service," Hanenburg said, noting that she and a handful of other Lighthouse staff are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure.

But the pandemic has impacted in-person mental health crisis response, Abderholden said.

"Unfortunately, many of the mobile mental health crisis teams around the state are not doing in-person visits," Abderholden said. "They're actually doing them over the phone. We're really hoping that when the vaccine comes out that they'll be viewed as first responders so that we can have them going out to mental health crisis calls."

The Minnesota Department of Health has outlined information, tips and resources for people seeking mental health services during the pandemic on its website. Flanagan also pointed to the Crisis Text Line for help — text "MN" to 741741 for mental health crisis assistance via text.