Tim and Denise Salzbrenner surrounded by their children. From left: Lydia, 12, Brooklyn, 13, and Adylin, 10. ANNA KORENSKY PHOTOGRAPHY

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Catholic Charities Helps Heal Children Right Where They Are – At School

When a child suffers from anxiety, the whole family suffers. It follows, then, that when the child gets help, the entire family can begin to heal. Such was the case for Denise and Tim Salzbrenner when their daughter, Lydia, struggled with anxiety.

“Just know that you don’t have to face it alone,” Denise said. “There is help out there for your family, for yourself, for your kids.”

The Salzbrenners are parishioners at Mary Our Queen Catholic Church. Their three daughters attend the five-day school.

When Lydia was 10, she saw a therapist to help her deal with anxiety that increased during her mom’s cancer treatment.

She didn’t want to go to school, and she was sick a lot. Her two sisters were also feeling some anxiety but not to the same degree.

“It was just her nature,” Denise said.

With so much going on, Denise and Tim enlisted the help of a therapist. They said Lydia began to improve to the point where they felt they could stop, but the cost was also a factor. With Denise’s cancer treatments, the family’s medical bills were adding up.

Enter Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities mental health services for school-aged children allowed Lydia to see a licensed mental health therapist without ever having to leave her school building. No afterschool appointments that interfered with activities, no time off from work for her parents, and no medical bills.

Joan Huss, MA, LIMHP, LADC, is the senior director of program services for Behavioral Health Services at Catholic Charities. She is proud that the program removes many barriers families face when dealing with mental health issues.

“We don’t file insurance,” Huss said. “That is a barrier for our working poor families, and even for our not so working poor families; it can get very costly.”

Another issue that many families have is finding a Catholic mental health professional who shares their values.

“At Catholic Charities, we use God and the Catholic Faith as a cornerstone for healing. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ,” Huss said. “I believe there are times I am doing God’s work, and I am his instrument.”

Despite relying primarily on word-of-mouth to spread the good news about the program, its popularity is exploding. Every year since the program began in 2017, the number of therapy hours has doubled.

“I wish I could say it is my supervisory skills that are causing it to grow, but it is not,” Huss said. “We get into a school, and the principal says, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know how we did this without you,’ and they talk to one another.”

The partnerships formed with the staff and administration at the schools where Catholic Charities licensed mental health practitioners are embedded are critical to caring for children and families struggling with things like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

“We are here to serve, and we are here to heal the whole person,” Huss said. “If there are mental health issues such as substance abuse, depression and anxiety, the whole person can’t heal without help.”

Therapists in the program are licensed in Nebraska to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. An example would be a student whose anxiety is so high that it affects daily life, and they don’t want to leave the house, go to school or participate in activities they once enjoyed.

“The kids that come in are at their lowest,” Huss said. “And we wrap around them, and we give them skills and teach them to think differently. And then watch them blossom and go to social events and participate fully in their lives.”

That is precisely what the Salzbrenner family experienced.

“It was a joint effort,” Denise said. “I felt like, ok, I am not doing this alone. Because as a parent, you feel that way. Like you have to do it alone. But I am not a professional, and I can’t fix it. How do I not make it worse?”

The Salzbrenners are happy to talk about their experiences with the program if it helps even one child who is suffering.

“Something simple could spiral,” Denise said. “Knowing we had the tools to handle it was so helpful. Catholic Charities was helping, the school was helping, and obviously friends and family were helping.”

For more information on this and other Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services, visit www.ccomaha.org/program-and-services/behavioral-health.