New program focuses on teen girls’ mental health



This summer, Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center (HVMHC) will provide a new group session, and for the first time in its history, it will be focused exclusively on teenage girls.

Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center announced a new summer group program called “Girls in Real Life Situations” (GIRLS). The program, which focuses on teenage girls entering seventh through 12th grade in the fall, was created to help girls confront bullying and peer pressure while helping their self-image.

“This is a really unique group. We haven’t done anything like that,” explained Stacy Shones, development coordinator at HVMHC. “We offer a lot of group sessions for substance abuse and outpatient, but we’re working hard at group therapy for adolescents.” Most options for younger people are either one-on-one or family-based, she explained.

The group, which will begin in June and run through August, will meet once a week to discuss social skills, mental-health topics, personal safety and coping mechanisms. The course will allow students talk with someone other than their parents and teachers, said HVMHC Case Manager Danielle Walther.

“Our hope is that the participants will feel supported, heard, and recognized in a safe space throughout various real-life discussions,” Walther said. “They will gain skills to assist them with being preventative and proactive throughout this difficult stage in their lives.”

According to Walther, the program was started as a result of the changing digital climate for teenagers and how social media impacts them in their daily lives. For instance, girls are learning about adult topics at a much earlier age before they can be properly introduced to them, and often through the wrong means. As a result, Walther explained, sometimes it is hard for parents to get ahead of it and teach their children before their peers teach them first.

“It’s definitely something I’ve always felt there was a need for, even looking back to when I was in middle school and high school and how it would be hugely beneficial to have an adult that isn’t a parent to look up to and ask questions,” Walther said. “With some intervention earlier on, hopefully as these girls get older, they’ll be able to have these healthier conversations with adults.”

Each week, a topic will be selected as a focus, including how to communicate online or deal with self-esteem issues. However, the first part of each class will take the form of a support group, when the girls can discuss what they’ve experienced in the week, problems they have had, or questions they want answered.

“We’re hoping that the girls really drive the topics each week, and talk about the real problems they work through each week and how they can work through them in a safe and healthy way,” Walther said.

From there, students will dive into topics on a weekly basis to develop skills to help in their social lives. For instance, one of the topics will be online safety and what to do if someone they don’t know sends them a message or adds them as a friend online and how to respond to that.

Other topics range from cyber-bullying and peer pressure, to safe boundaries and anger management –– each with its own set of ice-breakers and activities.

“My main goal is to make them understand that they aren’t the only ones going through the change in their life –– whether it’s puberty or life experiences so far –– and so they have a safe space to come to talk about it,” Walther said. “We can build on that and continue to move forward, and hopefully they will be able to leave this group and use those skills throughout their life on a regular basis.”

This is the first year for the program, but Walther and Shones are optimistic about its future. Walther explained that, as a case manager, many of her clients are young girls who are dealing with these issues on a daily basis, so adding in a group session for students to talk may help curb the problems early on.

“We’ve really been working hard here on the early intervention of mental health to help younger people be more successful in their adulthood and understand what’s going on with their mental health, and how to handle it,” Shones explained.

The program is made possible through a grant partnership with the Winona Community Foundation. To be eligible for the GIRLS group, participants must be entering seventh through 12th grade, have either Medical Assistance, Blue Plus, or UCare insurance or be enrolled in Winona Area Public Schools or a private school district, and have a current diagnostic assessment with an ongoing treatment plan.

For more information, contact Walther at or call 507-454-4341.


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