2017-09-09 / News

Free Counseling Improves Access to Solutions

By Jacob A. Ball

Free behavioral counseling, available from social worker Janet Hess to Island school children for several years, is now being offered to adults in the community by her husband, Chris Hess, with help from a Mackinac Island Community Foundation grant.

The couple is providing professional services needed by many communities, but especially challenging for Mackinac Island because of its geographic isolation from the mainland.

For about a decade, students at Mackinac Island Public School have been able to speak with Mrs. Hess about personal issues and concerns. Mr. Hess now is filling the same role for adults every Tuesday. His next scheduled availability will be Tuesday, September 12, at the Mackinac Island Public School. There are no fees, no insurance needed, and patient privacy is assured.

Mrs. Hess makes a bi-weekly trip from her home in Sault Ste. Marie to counsel Island children dealing with issues such as divorce, bullying, and lack of selfesteem. Barb Fisher, secretary at Mackinac Island Public School, said Mr. Hess is also available to students who would prefer to discuss their issues with a man.

To avoid bullying, the counseling is private and other students are not aware of it. The two social workers have been providing mental health care in the Upper Peninsula for more than four decades, specializing in stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and addiction, and family and marital counseling.

Access to mental health services on Mackinac Island can be a struggle for people who may not have the time to travel to a doctor’s office on the mainland. Stephanie McGreevy, director of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, said travel to the mainland is the most difficult aspect of counseling for Islanders.

Mrs. Fisher and Leanne Brodeur originally recognized the need for adult counseling and approached the community foundation for support. Mrs. Fisher has seen its benefits on numerous occasions with students and was enthusiastic about the potential benefits such a program can offer adults.

The cost of student counseling is built into the school’s operating budget, but expanding the service to the general public required an outside party to fund it.

Initial funding came through the foundation’s Beaumont Fund, which has supported the Mackinac Island Medical Center for more than a century. Another foundation grant was provided from an anonymous donor.

Since the program was begun several months ago, she says, she has spoken with community members who’ve used the service and most have said it helped them develop better ways to deal with their problems.

“He wants to give you the tools to be happier and learn how to work through stresses yourself,” Mrs. McGreevy said of Mr. Hess.

An impartial, professional listener often is all many people need, she said. In such a small community, it can be hard to find a confidant who would be able to offer advice in a similar way.

Mr. Hess also has connections to resources that could be valuable to a patient, depending on the circumstances. This could include, for example, a referral to a medical specialist to deal with a sleep disorder, often caused by stress and depression.

Family issues, such as marital problems or child behavior, are the most common reason people talk with Mr. Hess. For issues such as this, he is prepared to offer helpful advice or simply listen sympathetically.

Individuals with substance abuse problems also could benefit from a consultation with Mr. Hess, who has helped people of all ages suffering from addictions.

Mrs. McGreevy pointed out that the community foundation also has funding available for in-patient rehabilitation services, but encourages anyone concerned with substance abuse to speak with one of the counselors before exploring this approach.

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