Neighborhood NewsGreat Falls - Cascade County


Alluvion's school-based behavioral health services works to help students

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Posted at 4:49 PM, Jun 20, 2024

GREAT FALLS — For six years, Alluvion Health has partnered with area schools to provide behavioral health services to students. In that time they’ve expanded to serve 15 schools at four school districts with more interest each year.

This past school year, the program serviced nearly 900 students. The 10 therapists on staff receive referrals from school counselors or pediatricians and also direct appointments. The services can be crucial to young people in this stage of brain development.

“When you're stressed, you produce a really harmful substance called cortisol. And cortisol is kind of like an acid that eats your brain,” said Julie Trosper, Alluvion’s Behavioral Health manager. “So the longer a developing brain is stress and that cortisol is on the brain, what happens is atrophy begins to happen and it actually shrinks the part of your brain that develop neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin that make us kind of feel even.”

Take recent Paris Gibson Education Center graduate Samantha Haffner for example. Who’d struggled with her mental health for before a crisis led her to seek behavioral health services.

“I started my junior year when I was attending Great Falls High. And one day, I was having a crisis. And I came down to the counselor's office after a very long phone call to my mom,” Haffner said. “And my counselor went, ‘hey, there's an Alluvion therapist here. Do you want to talk to her?’ And I'm in tears. And I was like, sure, something to fix this.”

Haffner met with Trosper and started on a path toward healing.

“It's a great way to be able to talk to somebody. And I mean, I've talked about boys and friends and stupid drama that I don't even remember now, I've talked a lot about,” Haffner said. “I’ve learned breathing techniques and dealing with stress and what my stressors are and things that cause me to have panic attacks or anxiety attacks. Leaning how to talk one on one with people and being able to do that effortlessly has been a huge part of my therapy.”

And thanks in part to her time in therapy, she was able to graduate from Paris Gibson Education Center.

“I was super suicidal at that point. I don't think I would be sitting here today without Julie and Alluvion and all the outreach and all the help and love that I've gotten from them,” Haffner said. “I genuinely don't think I'd be sitting here today. And now I'm working a full time job. I'm graduated. I'm taking it day by day.”

One of the barriers to finding mental health in schools is not knowing where to start, or how to pay. But as Sam found out, Alluvion and the schools they partner with make it easy.

“You could just walk into any of the buildings and be like, ‘hey, I'd like to schedule an appointment with behavioral health or a therapist’,” Haffner said. “And they're like, ‘okay, do you have one in mind?’ No. ‘Okay. We'll find one for you.’ Cool. All right.”

School can be the cause of all kinds of stress whether personal, academic or social. But Alluvion Health wants students and parents to know that behavioral health services can help.

“The best case scenario is if people get early intervention, if their kids are showing signs of anxiety or depression or have a traumatic event,” Trosper said. “The earlier we can offer therapeutic services to that youth, the better outcomes we have.”