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Dubuque Public Schools to offer new mental health rooms for high school students

Amy Unmacht
High school students at Dubuque's public high schools now have access to 'brain health' rooms to help them deal with mental health issues during the school day.

High school students in the Dubuque Public School District have a new resource to help deal with their mental health.

They're called brain health retreat rooms.

Students who are feeling anxious, stressed or just having a bad day can go to these rooms to recover and get help with coping skills from a mental health specialist.

Amy Unmacht, the executive director of the Foundation for Dubuque Public Schools, said the rooms will have four different areas to address different needs.

"If you're really like anxious, kind of needing to be by yourself to regroup, there's going to be these chairs that kind of surround you almost kind of like a cocoon, that you can feel kind of that big hug and feel like you're by yourself," she said.

The rooms also have a group gathering area where students can meet with counselors and a kitchen with health snack options.

Unmacht said the Foundation worked with the non-profit Brain Health Now to develop the rooms, which are based on Iowa City High School's NESTT mental health center.

She said the idea started last spring when Dubuque school counselors reported being overwhelmed with students needing mental health help.

"So what was happening were these students were just been sent home because they were too anxious to go back to class. But there really was nothing, nowhere for them to go or not enough staff to help them," she said.

"And so then that just compiled the problem, because the next day they were anxious because they missed the day before."

Studies indicate children's mental health has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last fall, several leading children's mental health organizations declared a "national emergency in children's mental health," citing the pandemic along with existing challenges and urged lawmakers to take action.

Unmacht said even before the pandemic, students were reporting needing more help with their mental health.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, she said.

"As we got back from remote learning and back into class, in person learning, students were feeling overwhelmed, they were feeling stressed out," she said. "They were feeling unprepared for that task, or that task or that class."

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter