“I’m doing some acrylic paintings for my art class,” says Julia. “I’m working on a five- canvas collection. The focus is protesting our society’s beauty standards.”
She is also saving useful mental health tips, articles and notes in what she calls her “happy glitter folder.” That one folder has grown into three over the years. Every day, Julia carries those folders to school and back. Each folder is packed with pieces for her to reference and share. Just recently she pulled out a sleep hygiene article to give to a cousin who was having difficulty sleeping.
When Julia was fourteen her world was far different than it is today. The pandemic had hit, everything was in lockdown, and Julia was facing incredibly difficult issues. Anxiety had her harming herself and falling into a substance use disorder.
Julia’s mom, Jacque Koepp explains, “Julia was having daily anxiety which was causing a lot of stress in her life. Our family had gone through a lot of life changes in a short amount of time—coupled with world changes, societal changes and the pandemic.”
“Daily anxiety and depression are an evil battle,” says Jacque. “She was struggling with things I didn’t understand, like anxiety at the level of panic disorder. Her substance use and self harm behaviors were shocking. As a parent I felt very helpless. I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
“I see so many kids struggle with mental health problems. They don’t know how to start helping themselves. Amberwing gives kids the willingness to want to help themselves.”—Julia
School counselors and a therapist recommended Amberwing – Center for Youth & Family Well-Being.
“I was really hesitant to go to Amberwing at first,” says Julia. “When I got there the kids welcomed me and surrounded me and made me feel good about being there. I felt super secure and safe when I was there, thanks to my doctor, two great counselors and my art therapist.”
Amberwing was created and is owned by the Miller-Dwan Foundation. It brings together the combined resources of community philanthropy and the very best compassionate, skilled care to shape a national model of effective mental health care. It prioritizes innovative models of care that seek to understand the root causes of mental health issues and provide services that intentionally build resilience and healing.
“When Julia went to Amberwing it was an immediate relief for her and for me,” says Jacque. “She was given a skill set right away—a mental health tool box. And I was given reading material which I read ferociously throughout the first two nights she was there. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be her sidekick.”
Julia experienced Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) at Amberwing. Dialectical means combining opposite ideas. DBT is a type of talk therapy that does that. It focuses on helping people accept the reality of their lives and their behaviors, as
well as helping them learn to change their lives, including their unhelpful behaviors.
Some of the DBT tools Julia learned and now uses in her daily life include making a pros and cons list when she is considering harmful behaviors. She also keeps a diary card, a kind of mood, behavior and skills tracker that allows her to notice patterns and keep her DBT skills top of mind. Each day she checks her “PLEASE skills.” PLEASE is an acronym for:
PL – treat Physical Illness
E – balance your Eating
A – Avoid mind-altering substances
S – get enough Sleep
E – get regular Exercise
Although Julia’s anxiety is pretty much in check these days, she is still dealing with it, as well as with depression. It’s why she is taking care of herself by continuing her mental health journey with Amberwing. As of this writing, Julia was attending a four-week refresher course to keep her skills up.
Both Julia and Jacque believe that Amberwing has given them the strength to be the force for healing in their own lives and to advocate for others.
“I feel like in our society it is very difficult for any of us to admit we need emotional and mental health support,” says Jacque. “We all try to get through our lives on our own—pedaling as hard as possible to get through it. We need to take time to admit we need more than what is inside ourselves. We need people, community, connection. We need to reset in order to continue on with our goals. Too often we set aside the things we need most. Amberwing allows us a place to start over, to build strength, resilience—hope.”
As far as Julia is concerned, she wishes there were an Amberwing on every corner.
“I see so many kids struggle with mental health problems,” says Julia. “They don’t know how to start helping themselves. Amberwing gives kids the willingness to want to help themselves.”