Skills for living

May 19, 2000


The Mental Health Center

401 E. Antietam St., Hagerstown


Washington County Mental Health Authority, the core service agency and local arm of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has a directory of mental health services in Washington County

For information, contact :

Washington County Mental Health Authority

322. E. Antietam St., Hagerstown


Community Partnership for Children and Families

A State of Maryland Local Management Board Initiative


John Budesky, executive director

33 W. Washington St., Hagerstown


"Help and Hope - Caring for Your Child's Mental Health, " is a free booklet available from National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Colonial Place Three

2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300

Arlington, Va. 22201-3042

Helpline: 1-800-950-6264

National Mental Health Association

021 Prince St.

Alexandria, Va. 22314-2971


By KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

Last year Joshua Kessell got in trouble at school - fighting, smoking and talking back to teachers. He never turned in his homework. "Just didn't want to do it." He felt mad at himself, he said.

cont. from lifestyle

Josh, 14, is in eighth grade at E. Russell Hicks Middle School. He's getting along better.

For about nine months, Josh has been involved in LifeSkills, a program provided by The Mental Health Center in Hagerstown.

LifeSkills is a psychiatric rehabilitation program, a field pioneered with adults and expanded to help children, according to Denise Abbott, the program's manager. The emphasis is on learning and practicing new skills so a person can achieve a maximum level of functioning in society. The program is not an alternative to baby-sitting or day care, Abbott says. A psychiatric diagnosis is required.

There are about 150 kids involved in the Hagerstown program, some "on site" at The Mental Health Center, some in after-school sessions at a few local schools.

"We are seeing more children who seem to have greater needs," says Martha Roulette, director of student services for Washington County Public Schools. The schoolhouse is a good option for meeting those needs, she believes.

School is a kid's primary job, so LifeSkills focuses on skills needed to get that job done, according to Abbott. The program includes individual therapy and working as a group. "There's not one set fix that works for all kids," says Jeremy Cantner, LifeSkills individual services team leader.

It's hard for many of the children to pay attention, according to Cantner. LifeSkills helps them learn to focus, to ignore distractions, to behave appropriately, to manage anger, to follow instructions, to solve problems.

LifeSkills also works on skills outside school, skills needed in the bigger setting of life, Cantner says. The program is big on community service. Children involved in the program have worked on cleaning up area parks and helping out at the SPCA, he says.

Success is reinforced with rewards. Many of the rewards are based on performance in school, Cantner says. The kids help to plan the reward activities. Josh enjoys going skating or to the movies. He says the counselors like the same activities as the kids.

There also are consequences, such as writing essays, for inappropriate behavior, says Karen Lancaster, Josh's mother. The "worse trouble, the more words," says Josh.

Josh plans to go to high school in the fall. He has set some goals, including getting passing grades and getting involved in a sports team.

How is he feeling about himself lately? "Better," he says.

Since January, LifeSkills also has been working with several preschoolers. The earlier problems are identified and treated, the better, Abbott believes. She thought a few children would be referred to the program. There already are 10 preschoolers involved.

Cantner agrees that early intervention is important. But he also believes it's "never too late" for a child to be helped.

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