Anxiety crept up on 16-year-old Alejandra slowly. The pandemic began and, like most kids, she was suddenly doing school virtually and isolating inside her home.
"The whole year, sitting at a computer for hours, I became really anti-social," said Alejandra. "I didn't know how to talk to people. Then when we started going back to school, it was really hard because I didn't know how to socialize with anybody anymore."
In the morning, as she would get ready for school, Alejandra would feel physically sick with anxiety. It would sometimes cause her to throw up, and she’d often not make it to the bus stop.
"I've never experienced anything like this," said Alejandra. "It was just a lot of worry and constant fear of what if I get a panic attack? What if I can't talk? What if I run out of breath while I'm talking?"
Alejandra’s mom tried to find her a therapist, but there were long waitlists. Thankfully, she had the courage to tell her pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin Midtown Pediatrics in Milwaukee. At that very same visit, Alejandra met Leann Vice-Reshel, PsyD, LPC, a behavioral health consultant. Leann was part of the first group of licensed therapists to be hired to work alongside Children’s Wisconsin pediatricians to provide early detection and intervention when it comes to a child’s mental health.
Alejandra began seeing Leann fairly regularly. The sessions with behavioral health consultants are shorter than a typical therapy visit, but Leann gave her coping skills such as breathing exercises and positive affirmations to practice every morning.
After a few months, Alejandra was back in school regularly and feeling much better. She's been sharing her experience with the hopes of helping other teens talk about their mental health.
"She helped me so much. Putting my story out there is scary, but I think if other teens can see I'm going through the same thing, and if I can get through it, you can too," said Alejandra.
Our integrated mental and behavioral health care model was created thanks to a $20 million gift from The Yabuki Family Foundation in 2021. It is the largest single gift in Children’s Wisconsin history. The funding helped us launch the effort to put licensed therapists in every one of our primary care offices and urgent care locations. When fully staffed, the program has the potential to benefit more than a third of the pediatric population in southeastern Wisconsin.
This model creates a new standard for evaluation, treatment and access to mental health services for children and teens. A child’s primary care team, which now includes licensed therapists serving as behavioral health consultants, collaborates to address concerns such as anxiety, depression, trauma, suicidal ideation, attention difficulties, sleep challenges and disruptive behaviors. As of July 1, 2022, Children’s Wisconsin had hired 18 full-time behavioral health consultants, served more than 9,000 patients, and decreased the patient therapy wait list by 30 percent.
The Yabuki Family Foundation was established by Jeff Yabuki, who served as CEO of Wisconsin-based Fiserv from 2005 to 2020. Jeff Yabuki’s younger brother, Craig, had depression that went undiagnosed during childhood. In 2017, Craig died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and three young children.
“Out of tragedy comes opportunity," said Jeff. "We are honored to pay tribute to my brother by partnering with Children’s Wisconsin to create meaningful change for kids in Wisconsin and across the nation."
Kids in Wisconsin are experiencing a mental and behavioral health crisis, and many families are unsure how to address it with their children. That's why Children's Wisconsin is committed to helping parents and caregivers get the answers they need. To learn how you can play an active role in your child's mental and behavioral health, visit our Shine Through website.