Building Resilience through Holistic Behavioral Health Programming
For nine years, St. Joseph Health’s school-based obesity prevention and nutrition program, Healthy for Life, aimed to improve children’s health and wellness through physical activity and education, addressing one of the most ubiquitous public issues in our nation.
Healthy for Life was successfully running in nearly 20 schools when the 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), an evaluation conducted every three years that identifies the community’s most pressing needs, revealed a new and growing need. Behavioral health issues such as anxiety, depression and self-esteem were becoming more prevalent, particularly among younger populations.
According to Montserrat Archila, the school-based behavioral health programs lead for St. Joseph Health, Sonoma County (part of Providence St. Joseph Health’s family of organizations), the CHNA results provided the perfect opportunity to pivot. “Rather than start from scratch, we asked, ‘How can we adapt our current programming, focused primarily on wellness, to address widespread social and emotional health needs?’ We identified our strongest partnerships with schools and community organizations to amend our current program and think about health holistically.”
After concerted collaboration with local partners and school personnel, St. Joseph Health, Sonoma County, launched a pilot of the revamped Healthy for Life program in 2019. The child-focused component of this program for all students incorporates fitness, nutrition and mindfulness into a comprehensive curriculum. The program emphasizes the importance of movement and self-awareness for overall health and equips educators to navigate this new landscape. A set of specialized tools rooted in the science of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience were adopted.
The topic of childhood trauma and adversity can be uncomfortable. Archila and her team feel honored to be trusted to facilitate these necessary conversations to move the work forward.
School staff members and care providers expressed a need for resources and training to teach to children displaying behavioral challenges in the classroom. Archila and her team developed trainings, as an extension of Healthy for Life and made sure that teachers were being asked about their own health and wellbeing through professional development activities and one-on-one conversations.
Through community partnerships, Sonoma County teachers across 28 schools received training in 2019 on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and have learned useful strategies from local partners such as Seeds of Awareness including restorative and mindful practice to incorporate in the classroom.
“We continue to work hard to build fluency around these critical issues so that everyone – health care providers, teachers, community organizations, elected officials – is speaking the same language,” says Archila.
This fluency is what enables Providence to build and maintain such strong community partners and reach even more people with its programming. In Sonoma County, St. Joseph Health and its partners have hosted targeted screenings of the film Resilience, a documentary that looks at the science of trauma and how our ability to address our own wellness influences our interactions with others.
Each screening is followed by a panel discussion with local experts chosen based on their experience with trauma-informed care and knowledge of its implementation in schools, clinics and community centers. Between May 2019 and February 2020, 15 screenings were organized, reaching more than 500 participants.
With the global COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Archila and her team reconvened to find creative ways to adapt the program to be responsive to changing community needs. Using tools such as mindfulness apps, at-home breathing exercises and virtual film screenings, St. Joseph Health is determined to continue to meet the behavioral health needs of its young populations, especially during these uncertain times.