You're Not Alone

Counselors team up to shine the light on mental health

Right now in America, one out of every four adults and one out of every five children is touched in some way by mental illness. Depression or anxiety might creep in. These individuals might have a parent or loved one who suffers or, worse yet, they might have entertained thoughts of suicide. What’s shocking is the fact that, despite these numbers, 60% of those suffering went untreated within the last year. They went it alone or felt isolated because they had no idea where to turn.

For School Counselor Nichole Hamnes, not a day goes by that she doesn’t feel the pressure and wonder if she’s doing everything in her power to help her students within the Billings Catholic School system. When a mother contacted Nichole last fall asking for an art therapy referral to help her son deal with his anxiety, Nichole realized she was ill equipped to provide one. Nichole says, “I thought, ‘I am not sure that I am doing my job as well as I could be.’” With a few phone calls to her school counseling peers, she realized she wasn’t alone in her concern.

“When students come to you, they are coming and seeking you out for help. You want to make sure you can help with whatever is going through their minds at the moment. You don’t want them to fall through the cracks,” Nichole says. It was that call for help that got Nichole thinking and asking why Billings, the largest city in our state, didn’t have a mental health fair, a place to gather experts, counselors, and therapists under one roof to educate the public.

It wasn’t long before she had fellow counselors Lyon Virostko from Castlerock Middle School, Kimberly Dugan from Canyon Creek School, Katie Hogan from Billings Central Catholic High School and Joan Micheletti from St. Francis Upper at the table with her.

“I see mental health issues as being one of our primary needs in our schools,” says Lyon Virostko. “We are often the first line of defense for teachers when they see a child struggling with anxiety or depression. We are often the first to respond.” Lyon says he realized right away what a gift it would be to know the faces behind some of the major mental health resources in our community, “So that there is a seamless communication between us.”

While these counselors deal with kids on a day to day basis, that’s not their only focus. Katie Hogan vividly remembers when a distressed mom walked into her office. “I have had that experience where a parent came to me and asked, ‘Where do you think I should go?’”

Because of this meeting of the minds, Billings’ residents will know how to better navigate the community’s mental health resources. They will have a one-stop-shop for help.

On May 23rd from 10AM to 4PM, these counselors will be heading up the first ever Healthy Minds Mental Health Fair. The goal will be to connect folks in need —no matter what their age — to private counselors, mental health organizations, therapists and neuropsychologists. In addition to informational booths, the community can take part in a handful of presentations designed to show how and why there isn’t a one size fits all approach to mental health care.

These counselors are hoping this is the first step in many to help create a mental health safety net for those in our community. Whether you deal with anxiety, have a mother in the early stages of dementia, have a relative who suffers from chronic mental illness or simply want to be educated, there will be something at the Healthy Minds Mental Health Fair that could touch your life. Lyon says, “The stigma of mental health is still there. We need to remove the stigma by focusing not on the illness but on what we can do to be mentally healthy. Counselor Kimberly Dugan couldn’t agree more and says, “I think a lot of people often don’t seek help because they don’t know where to turn. This event will give them the courage to step forward for their own mental health needs.”

Mark your calendar for this first-time event

Mental health services in Billings are vast, but navigating through the resources to fit a person’s needs can be daunting. That’s why the Healthy Minds Mental Health Fair is hoping to connect the community with those resources. This fair will be held May 23, 2015 from 10AM to 4PM at the Al Bedoo Shrine Auditorium. The event is free. If you are a provider or mental health organization and would like to learn more about booth space, feel free to contact Nichole Hamnes at or by phone at (406) 534-9575.







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